The Netherlands: Water and Wastewater Industry

The Dutch water sector consists of 1,450 companies with annual sales of US$12 billion (2 percent of GDP). Of this, $9 billion is raised domestically. Public companies (water companies and water purification companies) contribute 32 percent to sales, while engineering and consultancy companies contribute 7 percent. The remaining 61 percent is generated by 1,387 private companies and institutions ($7.5 billion). Of this latter group, 222 companies (16 percent) are producers of water purification technologies.

Worldwide growth in the market for water is expected to be 11 percent in the next 10 years. The water technology sector has recently experienced annual growth of 15 percent.

Some national and international trends that may affect the market include:

  • Increasing water scarcity
  • Increasing urbanization
  • Increasing privatization
  • Global population expansion
  • Increasing demand for complete solutions (Design & Build and Design, Build & Operate)
  • New technologies
  • Sustainability
  • One Europe
  • Millennium Development Goals

Contribution to Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s)

The Dutch Minister of Development Cooperation recently announced that the Netherlands would give sustainable access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities to 50 million people worldwide before 2015. This goal is meant to make a significant contribution to the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s).

Worldwide, more than 1.2 billion people still need to receive access to safe drinking water, and more than 2.6 billion people to sanitation facilities. Reaching this goal is expected to cost the Dutch government $1.3 billion. This project will create growing demand in the market, which will create opportunities for suppliers in the near future.

Best Prospects

The Dutch have always been famous for their expertise in water control management. Since the market in the Netherlands is very sophisticated and highly specialized, opportunities that exist for companies are mostly in state-of-the-art water treatment and measuring equipment.

Currently, compared to international markets, the level of Dutch specialization in the supply in drinking water and in industrial facilities such as process water recycling, re-use of municipal wastewater, and censoring, monitoring and control are underdeveloped. Firms capable of adding their technologies to these niches are welcomed.

Although the market for sophisticated measurement and analysis equipment has always been strong, over the recent years there has been a slump in imports from North America while German imports in particular have increased.

From many perspectives, more cooperation is crucial in the sector. From the perspective of innovation, clustering of technological know-how, expertise and creativity are very important to reach successful innovations. In this way Dutch niche players look for cooperation with a limited number of parties, such as water companies, water agencies, and research and education institutions.

Companies are encouraged to partner with Dutch companies by showing this technological know-how, expertise and creativity that bring innovation to the sector.

Some of the most widely used technologies in the Netherlands:

  1. MBR Technology: very compact wastewater treatment with membranes.
  2. ANAMMOX technology: bacterium, which removes nitrogen from wastewater without using oxygen.
  3. BABE technology: boosting the nitrifying bacteria in a side stream in a wastewater plant in such a way that the activated sludge in the main process is augmented.
  4. Berenplaat: drinking water plant, which uses several techniques, including UV light, to produce reliable drinking water.
  5. Nereda technology; bacterium, which removes nitrogen and phosphates from wastewater and forms compact grains.

New technological developments (in R&D):

  1. Brine treatment
  2. Blue energy
  3. Non-piped systems
  4. Security and safety equipment
  5. Water desalting technologies

Key Suppliers and End-Users

The Dutch water supply chain is made up of different organizations each with their own special tasks. The waterworks are responsible for the drinking water, municipalities for the sewerage and the water boards for treating wastewater. In the water technology industry, the government is an important player. Derived from European regulation directives, the national government regulates the water industry to ensure safe drinking water.

Regional inspectors from the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment control health aspects and hygiene. Provincial governments turn the national government policies into plans, while cooperating closely with water companies. Provinces also give permits for groundwater withdrawals.

The independent public water institutions known as “waterschappen”, together with the Ministry of Waterways and Public Works, are responsible for regional water and wastewater purification. The local authorities collect the wastewater via sewers and take care of urban and spatial planning.

The water supply companies use ground and surface water as raw material for drinking water supply. According to the government the quality of these raw materials must be good enough to produce drinking water with the help of simple means and at socially acceptable costs. Unfortunately the situation in practice is different: waterworks must put in huge effort to remove the waste products that result from many social activities with the help of advanced treatment and purification techniques. Agriculture in particular places a large burden on the environment through the release of nitrates and crop protection agents into the environment.

The Private Sector consists of distributors of drinking and industrial water production, wastewater purification technology, engineering companies, distributors of pipelines, pumps, clutches, valves and building contractors.

The major end-users are small companies (<100 employees), large companies (>100 employees), water supply companies and launching customers.

Over the next fifteen years the Dutch public sector will invest 47 percent less in the sector, whereas the private sector will invest 32 percent more. Note that this is an expectation drawn in the year 2000, and projects such as the Millennium Development Goals have not been included.

Market Entry

The Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment regulates the water sector, but needs to meet the EU Water Framework Directive. More on this directive at the Eur-Lex website here (PDF). The regulations of the Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment are executed by independent public institutions that regulate all water related activities in the provinces. They give permits to companies responsible for dumping wastewater and raise taxes on municipal wastewater in their region. When these regulations are ignored, the independent water institutions can heavily fine those responsible. Except for EU-wide impediments, there are no significant trade barriers.

Excerpts from “The Netherlands: Water and Wastewater Industry”, U.S. Commercial Service, May 2007.

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