Woman invents award-winning electricity saving device

Sandiswa Yiva Qayi
Facebook/Sandiswa Yiva Qayi

Imagine you could choose how much water your geyser heats up, rather than heating up all of it and wasting all that electricity? A South African woman has made it possible.

Sandiswa Qayi, an innovative woman from Eastern Cape, has come up with a device that is helping South Africans save money on their electricity bill.

It is reported that on average a geyser represents between 25% and 40% of the total amount of the electricity bill. To try and reduce this, some people switch on their geyser when they need hot water and switch it off as soon as the water is heated.

This is what Sandiswa Qayi used to do until she came up with the Hot Spot device. The device saves energy by boiling water faster and only boiling the amount of water you set it to – instead of all the water in the geyser. According to Professor Stephen Tangwe, an energy researcher at the University of Fort Hare in Alice in the Eastern Cape, Hot Spot can help save households more than 27% on their electricity bills each month.

We caught up with the award-winning innovator to talk about what prompted her to invent the device and some of the challenges she has faced as an entrepreneur.

How would you describe Sandiswa Qayi in three words?
Visionary, passionate and driven.

What was your childhood like?
I had a very diverse upbringing from the rural small town of Whittlesea with my grandparents, aunts and uncles because my mom was a factory worker in Butterworth textile factory.

Growing up in a village one had to be creative due to limited resources as we had limited access to fancy or bought toys. You had to use whatever is available from driving bricks, making dolls from drags, charging batteries by placing them on windows, using thorn as needles to sew baby clothes, etc. That was the normal life of rural kids.

How did you get into Science and Technology?
I was always in love with science and saw myself as a doctor or engineer. This later changed when I moved to Port Elizabeth and couldn’t get into the physics class because it was full. I ended up doing Maths & Geography which changed my career. After matric, I enrolled for Bachelor of Social Science which led me to where I am today.

How did ‘Hot Spot’ come about?
As a middle-income person renting a flat, I used to switch my geyser on and off because I wanted to save electricity and reduce my monthly electricity bill. The rising electricity costs made it unbearable for me to leave my geyser on the whole day. I also couldn’t afford timers, blankets & other alternatives and they were not talking to me. I felt they were too complicated.

The pain of waking up at 4am to switch the geyser on was a huge inconvenience, let alone the pain of not having hot water if you forget to switch your geyser on. One evening we were driving back from our business meeting with my partners when I had to call my helper to switch the geyser on and they laughed at me about the absurdity of this behaviour. This propelled me to research how the energy consumption and energy savings work which later resulted in the Hot Spot idea.

How does the device work?
The unit is retrofitted on existing high-pressure electric & solar geyser elements to make customer heat the volume of water they need when they need it. You can switch the geyser on and off and heat any volume e.g. 50 litres instead of 150 litres. You can also get savings when you keep the geyser on without switching it off. This will save your electricity costs, therefore, increase your monthly savings.

How is the device being received?
So far, the response is encouraging although there’s still a lot of work to be done to secure the volumes we need and to create consumer awareness.

The feedback achieved from all exhibitions and market pilot has really helped us to refine our market and distribution strategy, including technical issues relating to installation.

How did you feel when HotSpot won the Youth-led Business Award?
I was over the moon and humbled by the recognition of our hard work. This confirmed that anything is possible if you pray and work hard.

Winning several awards for energy efficiency from Enviropedia Ecological awards & Department of Energy Young Woman in energy in 2017 also boosted our confidence.

This year we were nominated at African Utility week 2018 for Innovation of the Year. Although we didn’t win, the recognition is adding weight to our marketing and branding.

We are even taking hot spot & the Amahlathi Eco-Tech (AET) brand international as we were selected as Grassroots Innovators to attend the Festival for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in India through the Department of Science & Technology Localisation Unit (TLIU & Grassroots innovation) and this July we will be in Switzerland for SA Venture leaders as one of the top 10 SA companies.

You run the Amahlathi Eco-Tech (AET) Africa business. How was the transition from working for another company to starting your own?
I was a general manager of a non-profit organisation where I was responsible for executive duties of running the company, including raising funds.

The lessons learnt from five years working experience as the general manager of that institution and eight years of project management in economic development agency came in very handy. I must say though, it wasn’t a smooth sailing as this was a different business altogether, but my faith, passion and determination saw me through it all. But being a co-owner of AET was different to being employed although the risks are similar in terms of potential failures and cash flow issues.

What are some of the challenges that come with being a woman in the Science and Technology industry and running your own company?
I had several sessions where I was cornered to expose my limited technical experience, but it helped me to be genuine and to acknowledge my shortcomings and work hard to address them. Having my business partners and industry strategic partners helped me as I focused on what I do best while learning what I don’t know.

Balancing family and the demands of growing my business was also not easy, especially with no financial savings. Cash flow issues related to operational costs and funding for research were also serious challenges which meant I had to constantly apply for competitions and funding.

What would you say it takes to be a successful entrepreneur?
Passion, vision, hard work, ability and willingness to learn, determination, partnerships and mentorships.

What is your advice to women who want to be entrepreneurs?
Believe in yourself, have a strong support system at home and at work, and be curious to learn. Network and work as hard as possible and be fuelled by your passion and prayer. It’s not an easy journey and you will sometimes feel tired hence you need the support system and mentors to encourage you.

Are there any other projects in the pipeline?
Yes. We are launching the hot spot factory in August 2018. We are also working to set up a factory for other products in 2019 or 2020.

Where can customers buy a HotSpot device?
Customers can buy it online at www.aetafrica.co.za or check our Facebook page AET AFRICA, and then get a plumber or electrician to fit it.

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