Germany Faces Challenges of Third Straight Dry Year

October 2020

By Flérida Regueira Cortizo and Anne Bräutigam, Germany Trade & Invest

The German water sector already had plenty to deal with adjust to demographic change and migration to cities while trying to reduce micro pollutants and modernize the sewage system. But in the last years, it’s had to confront another critical issue: persistent drought.

Summer 2020 marked the third year in a row that it was forbidden to pump water from rivers and streams due to the drought in some places, including the cities of  Wolfenbüttel and Osnabrück. Meanwhile, the water utility in the Harz Region reported levels in drinking water reservoirs sinking due to the lack of rain, and in the small town of Artern in Thuringia, 80 percent of the coniferous trees in the cemetery died because of a major lack of rainwater. Water is threatening to become a luxury item.

Climate change is hitting hard

The drought monitor of the Helmholtz Center for Environmental Research (UFZ) confirms the anecdotal evidence of water shortages: almost everywhere in Germany, plants are under drought stress. Five regional states, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg, Thuringia and Lower Saxony are suffering extraordinary drought. Even if there were exceptionally heavy rains of some duration, the soil would need quite a long time to recover.

Such shortages demand a rethink in our use of water, in agriculture for instance, but also in our private and industrial water consumption. New  irrigation  and filter technologies need to be considered as well as new rainwater utilization concepts.

Innovative agriculture meets inventive wastewater treatment

Germany’s Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has introduced research programs to tackle these challenges. For example, the funding initiative WavE aims to develop innovative national and international technologies and management concepts to sustainability in water availability, for example, by reusing municipal wastewater and industrial water. A total of 13 joint research projects with more than 80 partners from industry, academia and research institutions are being funded.

One of those initiatives, the HypoWave research project has found a way to minimize the high water consumption in agricultural production by using recycled wastewater and recycling valuable nutrients from wastewater within the cultivation of vegetables and ornamental plants. For the first time, treated wastewater was used for hydroponic plant cultivation. The wastewater comes from a nearby sewage treatment plant and is treated and sanitized in a multi-stage process. Nutrients necessary for healthy plant growth, like nitrogen and phosphorus, are extracted. The HypoWave process combines innovative agriculture and forward-thinking wastewater treatment.

Modern urban wastewater treatment plant. © Stockphoto/hxdyl

Digital water management

Digital technologies can also help to increase the efficiency of water use and improve the data and qualitative and quantitative information basis for regional water resource management. In the future, remote sensing data may help to provide higher spatial and temporal resolution of water-quality models. This could improve anticipatory control of storage and treatment plants (quantitative), safety measures in case of accidents and the monitoring of discharges (qualitative).

Water supply and disposal can also be ensured if plants operate according to demand under flexible framework conditions. The expert network for chemical engineering and biotechnology in Germany, DECHEMA, promotes the use of digitalized model-based optimization systems in industry as one way of achieving the desired results.

In its report on “Opportunities and challenges of interconnections of systems in water management (Water 4.0)”, the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) expects e.g. that optimization and consumption control measures will be mainly implemented in industrial water management. At the same time, for municipal water supply systems, smart meters are being touted as an integral component in integrating private households into holistic regional and/or municipal urban management concepts. Standardization processes are already underway. These technically practicable approaches dovetail with numerous ongoing projects on smart grids and smart meters at the EU level. In Germany, the W-Net 4.0 joint project, funded by the Ministry of Research (BMBF) to the tune of around 1.6 million euros, aims to combine geo-information, simulation and data analysis tools in a secure, easy-to-use web platform. The ultimate goal is to provide water supply companies with significant added value and to make improvements in digitalization.

There are interconnections between regional water resource management, urban infrastructure, and the planning, construction and management of buildings and green spaces. Tackling the future challenges in an unstable environment requires an integrated approach that considers all sectors, including municipal and industrial water supply and treatment, spatial planning, green construction and agriculture. New production processes and digitalization are the order of the day. Germany stands out in this field with a solid industrial base, strong public support, experience in digital innovations in industry and water, and ongoing research. New players can expect a fertile ground for cooperation and development.

Financing and incentive instruments

Developing and implementing new solutions requires the public and private sectors to work hand in hand. This is why strong support is available to enterprises considering investing in sustainability in Germany. The federal government spent approximately EUR 1.5 billion in 2019 on R&D in the field of climate, environment and sustainability.

Companies that are planning  to establish a facility in the promising German market can take advantage of a wide range of financing and incentive instruments. Direct grants and other instruments, such as public promotional loans, public guarantees and equity capital, can reduce investment costs significantly in designated support areas.

Visit www.gtai.de/incentives for a wide range of information on the incentives and funding available.

Support is on hand for new market players

An expansion in Germany offers innovative foreign companies a range of potential growth areas. Germany’s national economic development agency, Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI), offers free support for companies planning to expand to this promising market. GTAI’s industry experts Flérida Regueira Cortizo (flerida.regueira@gtai.com) and Anne Bräutigam (anne.brautigam@gtai.com) are happy to discuss how you can grow your sustainable business in Germany. Just e-mail them to arrange a call.