College of Agriculture, Engineering
and Science (CAES)

MSc cum laude Engineering graduate, Mr Ethan Pillay.

Working Towards Helping Keep SA’s Lights On

‘My love for mathematics and physics put me on the right road to realise my long-held dream of becoming a civil engineer,’ says Mr Ethan Pillay who graduated from UKZN with a cum laude MSc degree in Civil Engineering.

Pillay describes the study required for his undergraduate degree as ‘eye-opening’, revealing very clearly the amount of work, dedication and knowledge required to be successful in the Engineering field. ‘This quest for knowledge is what spurred me on to complete my master’s degree,’ said Pillay.

More than proud of completing his degree with high honours, his study involved dealing with the built environment and the world in general. ‘The work has deepened my understanding of civil engineering, specifically the connection it has with technology,’ said Pillay.

‘My research has enabled me to bridge the gap between new methods of analysis using sophisticated computer algorithms and traditional methods of analysis and first principles,’ he said. ‘The degree led to me being employed by a very reputable engineering company, making the hard work, late nights and endless sacrifices all worthwhile.

‘Being awarded an Engineering degree from UKZN is a major achievement as the University is at the forefront of engineering research in South Africa,’ he said.

Pillay has successfully published papers in reputable journals and is now publishing more of his work under the guidance of his supervisors.

His current research is on the automation of optimising the placement and setting of pressure reducing valves to minimise water loss in distribution networks and simultaneously generating renewable energy from excess pressure in the networks using pumps operating as turbines.

The motivation for his research arose from the lack of access to water and electricity South Africans are currently struggling with. Water losses are of great concern in South Africa due to increasing population density and scarcer water supplies. The country’s water network leakages account for about 30% of the total water supply.

‘The current state of water shortages will only worsen unless something is done to conserve the finite resources we have, such as reducing our water distribution networks’ leakage rates,’ he said. The reduction of leaks and the generation of renewable energy as a by-product impacts communities positively by increasing water availability as well as providing much-needed energy.

‘Water saved from leakages reduces the need to process and treat greater volumes to meet increasing demand. By reducing leaks in water distribution networks, water scarcity becomes less of a problem for communities, thus increasing their standard of living.

‘The use of pumps as turbines is a real opportunity for communities to generate renewable energy using existing infrastructure, to help combat load shedding,’ he said.

Pillay – a registered candidate engineer with ECSA – works as a structural engineer undertaking the design and analysis of various greenfield and brownfield steel and concrete projects.

Pillay had this advice for students: ‘At UKZN I have come to realise that hard work, dedication and perseverance may sound clichéd, but they are definitely worth it in the long run. With a goal and a positive mind-set, anything is possible.’

In his spare time, he enjoys cooking, learning and spending time outdoors.

Words: Swasti Maney

Photograph: Supplied