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Spain’s dynamic water technology sector

September 1, 2019
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Why this is important to Wisconsin businesses: Water technology companies in Wisconsin can take advantage of synergies with this industry cluster.

In recent years, the Spanish economy has demonstrated consistently high growth rates. Despite international economic uncertainty, Spain is expected to remain on the path of economic recovery, with growth rates that exceed the European average. For 2019, growth is expected to reach 2.3%, with this growth resulting from meaningful financial and labor reforms as well as strong domestic consumption that is expected to remain an important driver of economic growth.

Spain’s water industry has seen significant growth in recent years. Turnover in the Spanish water sector totaled more than $5.5 billion, with approximately 24,000 companies—most of them small and midsize enterprises—active in the sector.

Increasing frequency of droughts and floods as a result of climate change is forcing Spain to implement measures for better control and management of scarce water resources. A shortage of water, especially in the south of the country, led to Spain’s pioneering and leading role in the construction of dams and desalination plants. Today, desalinated water accounts for 5% of the country’s water supply. Other sources are surface water (67%) and ground and spring water (27%). In addition, Spain is a leading player in the efficient and modernized irrigation of agricultural land. Half of irrigable land is equipped with localized irrigation systems. Thanks to Spain’s water-saving efforts, the country has been able to continuously reduce its water demand since 2007, reaching a level of 64 gallons per person per day. Counter to this trend, experts expect Spanish water needs to grow in the coming decade, driven by the recovery of the Spanish economy increasing demand from the industrial sector.

However, around 30% of water is still lost before it reaches the consumers. Limited public spending for water management in the aftermath of the financial crisis has held back the ability to reduce this figure. Worsening conditions of water infrastructure, as well as stricter EU regulations, are putting pressure on the Spanish government to accelerate activity in the sector. Currently, 39% of Spain’s 1,300 operating drinking water treatment plants have exceeded their operational lifetime of 30 years. To finance maintenance and replacement of these facilities, public-private investment is increasingly seen as a promising alternative to reduce dependence on restricted public debt spending. In terms of wastewater treatment plants, 2,000 facilities are processing 3.46 million barrels of wastewater, reaching 85% of the population. Municipalities with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants are still struggling with wastewater treatment, and some areas face difficulties dealing with high nutrient concentrations in wastewater.

Given the vast experience and expertise Spanish water engineering and construction firms have gained in recent decades, the companies increasingly compete in international markets, and, Wisconsin companies can participate in international projects of these companies as suppliers. Wisconsin companies providing niche technology solutions will find success in Spain in several specific areas. As groundwater levels decrease, companies offering innovative solutions to save water resources can find promising opportunities in the Spanish market. Aging infrastructure and a lack of water treatment plants in some municipalities will lead to new investments in the sector. Wisconsin companies can deliver modern technologies and specialized equipment. Companies that offer energy-saving solutions can gain a competitive advantage due to the demand of environmentally friendly technologies in the Spanish market. Surveys show that a majority of companies active in the sector are currently determining their ecological footprint and are searching for technologies to reduce CO2 emissions. In addition, innovative solutions for the tertiary treatment of cleaned water affected by high nutrient concentration can be useful to Spanish water operators to comply with stricter EU regulations in terms of water and river pollution. 

Further information on the Spanish water technology sector can be found on the website of the Spanish Association for Water and Sanitation (AEAS). Trade fairs are the best way to get to know the local market. The fairs “SIGA” and “SMAGUA,” as well as the “iwater” conference in Barcelona, are good opportunities for a sector overview and networking with potential business partners.

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