Moving towards sustainable water management – Innovation report (TAB water management)

Water is the basis for life, a habitat and a location factor all at the same time. This is why available water resources have to be used sustainably. There will be some dramatic changes in the coming decades to the available water supply, water demand and the requirements for water infrastructures due to climate change, the globally rising population and the associated increase in the demand for food and energy. The contamination of water with organic substances, nutrients and heavy metals as well as organic micropollutants represents a major challenge for water management. Possible solutions have to be developed and implemented in good time – for future problems as well – because of the longevity of the mainly pipeline-bound infrastructure for water supply and wastewater management.

Against this background, the objective of the TAB project commissioned by the Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment of the German Bundestag was to describe the global dynamics of innovation with regard to water, to work out the major challenges and trends with regard to industrialized and developing countries and to analyze in detail the innovation system in the field of water technologies.

Methodologically, the project is based on a systematic literature evaluation, a comprehensive patent analysis to determine the innovation dynamics and the level of specialization of individual countries, complementary publication analyses and assessments of foreign trade statistics regarding competitiveness.

With regard to the analysis of the innovation system, it was possible to draw on sector-specific primary and secondary data and the experiences of the Fraunhofer ISI with implementing pilot and demonstration projects in the field of water management.

The results of the innovation report show the high and still rising relevance of the topic of water: Increasing water demand, the decreasing water availability in certain regions due to climate change and considerable adverse effects on water quality are causing a large and growing need for action. Correspondingly, the market forecasts for water technologies assume a high total volume with substantial growth rates.

This market is currently one of the pillars of Germany's foreign trade success. German manufacturers of technology goods relevant for water management have the biggest foreign trade share in the world and are highly specialized in all areas of technology. Their performance based on exports can be regarded as outstanding – this was the case ten years ago and is still valid today. However, another picture emerges for Germany’s technological performance as measured by patent applications and publications. Up to the millennium, this was still relatively high, but has been stagnating since then, or even decreasing when compared to the growing activities of other relevant countries – Germany’s share in the relevant global patent applications halved between 1990 and 2010. This development gives rise to the fear that, in the medium to long term, the international competitiveness of German manufacturers will decline as will the share of foreign trade.

The expected global market development for water technologies – estimates assumed a future investment demand of more than 500 billion euros each year – harbors a huge export potential for the suppliers of these technologies. Alongside price-based competitiveness, the foreign trade success of technology-intensive goods like those used for water management is determined by competition based on quality. Countries that have built up a sophisticated innovation system and matched this to the needs of the global market can become lead suppliers on the export markets or remain so for longer.

The analysis results show that market-context factors are high on the supply and demand sides, and that elements related to the system, actors and regulation are also assessed as comparatively good. Technological performance is decreasing in comparison. Germany’s position as measured by this factor has dropped significantly since 1990. This implies that the outstanding position Germany occupied in the past is still reflected in strong, successful exports today, but that Germany’s prospects of successfully acting as a lead supplier on global markets in the future have worsened. In Germany, greater efforts are necessary to support the innovation system in the field of water technologies.




  • The Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag (TAB)


  • Fraunhofer ISI