Persistent Drought: Strategies, Technologies and Opportunities

Unusually high temperatures and low precipitation are becoming increasingly serious problems all over the world, including Germany. But the need to cope with that situation is driving innovation.

July 2019

By Flérida Regueira Cortizo, Germany Trade & Invest

The Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig’s German Drought Monitor (GDM) provides up-to-date and high-resolution soil moisture information. It currently shows an exceptional drought over large parts of Germany, in particular the north and east and at soil depths of up to 1.80 meters. Such exceptional droughts increase the risk of forest fires and make trees less resistant to disease. This June, the federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern experienced the largest forest fire in its history. The blaze could be smelled as far away as Dresden,  300 kilometers to the south. Residents were evacuated from the immediate proximity, with the  villages affected remaining empty for two weeks. This event again reminds us of the consequences of climate change, and the increasing general competition for water despite major regional differences.

© GettyImages/Juan Sebastian Cuellar Rodriguez / EyeEm

Water availability, water supply and consumers

It’s the first time in decades that drought has posed such a major threat to agriculture in Germany – and elsewhere. Jörg Rechenberg, water expert at the Federal Environment Agency (UBA), predicts that the need for irrigation will tend to increase throughout Germany . UBA estimates that Germany has not yet recovered its pre-2018 groundwater volume with its long, hot summer. Low levels in reservoirs will lead to new challenges in water availability. To ensure the supply of tap water, UBA is calling on the population, particularly in very dry regions such as Brandenburg, to avoid non-essential water use. In Lower Saxony, which has a lot of agriculture, some streets in the village of Lohne had to go without water for hours. It is no coincidence that this year the leading trade fair Agritechnica will focus on the tense water situation in parts of Germany under the motto “Global Farming – Local Responsibility”.

The Association of Municipal Enterprises (VKU) says that, as of mid-July, Germany’s 2019 water demands have already exceeded those of 2018, even though the year is barely half over.

Large German cities adapting to climate change

There is a clear need for new practices and technologies. The EU Commission has estimated that the minimum cost of the bloc failing to adapt to climate change would be €100 billion a year in 2020 and €250 billion in 2050. Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH)recently determined that 77 percent of the 520 largest cities will experience significant climate change by 2050. This means that summers in European metropolises are likely to be 3.5 degrees warmer, and winter temperatures could rise by 4.7 degrees. Stockholm would be as warm in 2050 as Budapest is at present. The climate in London would resemble that of Madrid and Barcelona, while Paris would be like Canberra, Australia. The good news is that 90 percent of large cities in Germany are already adapting to climate change.

Strategies, technologies and market opportunities

The German Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change (Deutsche Anpassungsstrategie an den Klimawandel (DAS) is a crucial instrument for meeting the challenges of rising temperatures, winter increases and summer decreases in precipitation, more frequent extreme weather events and greater climate variability. The DAS analyzes impacts and issues recommendations for 13 sectors in Germany, for example urban areas, which will likely be seriously affected by climate-change phenomena such as urban “heat island” or so-called tropical nights. For them, the DAS recommends “green” and “blue” infrastructure as well as the construction of passive houses and climate-efficient buildings.

There is great demand for innovation and technologies that take a holistic and service-oriented approach to revitalizing cities. For instance, in Berlin, the Roof Water Farm project combines wastewater treatment technology with food production. Hydroponics and aquaponics are being used as part of building-integrated, water-based farming strategies. This provides active climate protection through rainwater management in and around the building. Plants act as a source for evaporation and CO2 storage. Meanwhile, the Bavarian State Institute for Viticulture and Horticulture is conducting experiments on flat roofs and in allotment gardens. Roofs, provided with a lava- or chippings-based preparation and appropriately fertilized and irrigated, can be used to grow lettuce and vegetables. Plants have also been cultivated in the shade of rooftop solar cells, giving the plants better protection against dehydration and cooling the solar cells.

The need to adapt to climate change is driving demand for innovative tools and technologies in the German water industry. Water infrastructure has to be improved, solutions for building exteriors and roofs are needed, as are rainwater management systems.

4 good reasons to grow your business in Germany

Among the reasons for entrepreneurs in this sector to invest in Germany are the solid legal framework supporting water technology companies and promoting innovation, attractive opportunities in growing markets, and a business environment that encourages research, innovation and cooperation.

Last but not least, enterprises  planning to set up shop in the German market can take advantage of a wide range of financing and incentives. Direct grants and other funding instruments such as public loans and guarantees, as well as equity capital, can reduce investment costs significantly.

Visit www.gtai.de/incentives for extensive information about the incentives and funding available.

For example, to combat heatwaves, the Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) is supporting “lighthouse projects” under its program “Measures for Adaptation to the Consequences of Climate Change”. For example, support of up to 300,000 euros is provided for the development of educational modules on climate change and adaptation or adaptation concepts for companies. Project proposals can be submitted from 1 August to 31 October 2019 to the Zukunft-Umwelt-Gesellschaft (ZUG) agency.

Adapting to climate change offers a spectrum of opportunities for innovative foreign companies. Germany’s economic development agency Germany Trade & Invest (GTAI) offers free support services 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.