Risk Reduction and Energy Savings: Insurance-linked IoT Geysers in South Africa

South Africa is one of the few countries in the world where homeowners seem content to heat large volumes of water in a pressurised metal drum situated somewhere between their roofs and their ceilings. Generally, elsewhere in the world, hot-water cylinders, or geysers – as they are known locally – are situated in cupboards or basements. In South African homes, however, these large drums of hot water sit directly above our heads, over bathrooms, bedrooms and lounges.

Every seven years, on average, these geysers fail. They suffer electrical issues, leaks, or worse, they burst, resulting in water flowing through our homes, leading to insurance claims for consequential water damage to the tune of thousands of rands. Not only that, but geysers are the largest single energy consumer in South African households, accounting for roughly 40% of the average home’s monthly energy bill.

Origin Story
Sensor Networks founder and CEO, Mark Allewell, says solving these two problems is actually what spurred creation of the company: “In 2015, I was approached by two insurance companies to find solutions to reduce claims for burst geysers, and empower consumers to manage their household energy usage. It took us a while, but we’re finally beginning to see the fruits of our labour.”

Through partnerships with several insurance providers and telemetry companies, built over a number of years, Sensor Networks now has a trained network of affiliated plumbing companies, installing Geyser Connect products in roofs across South Africa, turning traditional ‘dumb’ geysers into smart geysers. These smart geysers communicate via the Sensor Connect platform, giving consumers direct control of their now-smart geysers. Direct links with insurance providers also shorten the customer journey in the event of a geyser claim; offering a full-service digital turnaround when something goes wrong.

My electricity bill dropped by around R1300 this month…Tracy McLaughlin, MD of Risk Solutions at GIB Insurance Brokers

Sensor Networks has also started proving energy savings for our customers, with real-world customers reporting significant savings on their monthly electricity bill. One such customer is Tracy McLaughlin, managing director of Risk Solutions at GIB Insurance Brokers. McLaughlin recently installed three Geyser Connect devices at her home via the Tracker Smart Geyser initiative; two in her household and one for her parents, on the same property.

“My electricity bill dropped by around R1300 this month,” says McLaughlin. When asked what drew her to sign up for Tracker Smart Home, McLaughlin says, “I heard about the benefits, but wanted to test it out on myself before offering it to GIB Insurance Brokers’s customers – I wanted to be the guinea pig.”

Installing a Geyser Connect device in your home is quick and easy – usually taking less than an hour per device when done by a certified Sensor Networks-affiliated plumber. McLaughlin says that while she wasn’t at home when the devices were setup, her father oversaw the installations: “He was impressed with the plumbing teams. They did a geyser assessment and actually informed my father that one of our geysers was not up to standard, allowing him an opportunity to fix the issue before the setup was completed.”

We’re finally beginning to see the fruits of our labour…Mark Allewell, founder and CEO at Sensor Networks

Once installed and fully commissioned, McLaughlin says connecting to the geysers using the Tracker Smart Home app was incredibly simple: “I downloaded the Tracker Smart Home app and immediately set up heating schedules on all three geysers. I was worried my parents would have cold water, so I setup their geyser to heat a little longer.” McLaughlin chuckles when asked if her parents are unwillingly guinea pigs, too, “I have invited my mother to share control of their geyser, so she can now manage her own heating schedule. I am keeping a close eye on the energy usage for the whole household using the analytics section of the app.” 

Allewell says Sensor Networks won’t rest until Geyser Connect devices are installed in every South African home: “We have proven risk reduction and energy saving benefits for our Geyser Connect product. Insurance companies are now beginning to see the value beyond the hype, with real data, real customer value, and real claims reductions.