Implementation and diffusion of innovative water infrastructures: obstacles, stakeholder networks and strategic opportunities for utilities

Abstract

German municipalities and their water utilities are having to react to substantial ecological, economic and social changes that have been brought about by climate change, volatile energy prices and declining numbers of citizens. Innovative technologies and concepts for urban water and wastewater systems already exist, but so far they have only been implemented in pilot projects, mainly as the result of the institutional barriers they face. So how can urban water transformation be encouraged? Qualitative expert interviews, a literature analysis and a series of workshops involving representatives from utilities and stakeholders involved in urban planning were undertaken to identify the key obstacles and encourage action. The current challenges facing the implementation of innovative urban water systems include sector-focused planning approaches, path dependencies (such as technological and “mental” barriers), legal and institutional constraints, and complex structures of responsibilities. New institutional arrangements involving the key players (cooperation models) as well as new processes requiring a reallocation of labour could contribute to a smoother implementation. Innovative water systems present new strategic opportunities for water utilities. Two opportunities that are worthy of consideration in order to fully exploit the benefits of such systems are a strengthening of the water–energy link and an intensification of activities along the “water chain”. The findings in this paper reveal that the urban water infrastructure of the future promises new forms of cross-sectoral integration and co-management, and the coexistence of centralised and decentralised systems.

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Fig. 1
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(modified, original Schramm et al. 2016)

Notes

  1. 1.

    The following strategic options and business opportunities represent a shortened and modified version of the findings published in Trapp (2015).

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Acknowledgements

The netWORKS 3 project “Intelligent integrated water management solutions in Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg” is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the funding measure “Smart and multifunctional infrastructural systems for sustainable water supply, sanitation and stormwater management” (INIS).

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Correspondence to Jan Hendrik Trapp.

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This article is part of a Topical Collection in Environmental Earth Sciences on “Water in Germany”, guest edited by Daniel Karthe, Peter Chifflard, Bernd Cyffka, Lucas Menzel, Heribert Nacken, Uta Raeder, Mario Sommerha¨user and Markus Weiler.

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Trapp, J.H., Kerber, H. & Schramm, E. Implementation and diffusion of innovative water infrastructures: obstacles, stakeholder networks and strategic opportunities for utilities. Environ Earth Sci 76, 154 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12665-017-6461-8

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Keywords

  • Water infrastructure
  • Urban water
  • Innovation
  • Governance structure
  • Business model
  • Germany