english – Challenges for the industry in 2023: It will not get easier

Staff shortages, rising energy prices, lack of planning capacity and asbestos fibre cement pipes: the challenges facing the pipeline rehabilitation industry for 2023 remain many and varied.

In the latest RSV knowledge exchange, engineering firms, manufacturing companies, implementing companies, municipalities and network operators looked at the current situation from different perspectives.

"We are trying to create the tip of the iceberg"

There is a lack of staff everywhere - that was problem number one for almost all participants in the online event. A network operator from southern Germany put it in a nutshell: "We have a lot of damage that we should take care of. But the many daily things just don't let us get to it. We try to manage the tip of the iceberg and keep the business going." Other network operators also reported stalled projects in sewer rehabilitation because of a lack of people in all kinds of professions - from surveyors to flush truck drivers.

"Most people have a misconception of what we do"

Crisis-proof, diverse and technically demanding - why do so few prospective engineers end up in our industry? Daniel Korczinski from the engineering firm ISAS reported on a job fair at a university where he had advertised for young talents. "Actually, interest is high in the fields of construction and water management. But at the word "canal", people run away in flight. Most of them have a completely misconception of what we actually do." Bertram Leblang from the Entsorgungsverband Saar (EVS) summed it up: "Our profession is obviously just not sexy. We have to work more on that."

Planning - Especially in Germany there are problems

"The lack of engineers fuels another problem: many trenchless rehabilitation projects fail because of the necessary condition assessment and planning. In addition to the fact that a lot of planning was delayed during the Corona period, the problem seems to be worse in Germany than abroad: everything that required planning was postponed and only comes onto the market with delays and in smaller project sizes. We don't have this problem abroad," reports Ralf Glanert from the pipe manufacturer Wavin. Thorsten Schulte from Tracto Technik agrees: "Renovation is a top market abroad, yet the expertise in the international markets is much lower than in Germany." Factsheets and standards from Germany are very popular beyond our borders, according to Schulte: "What is currently happening in Germany in terms of regulations is really good."

Energy prices were not absent from the knowledge exchange in 2023. RSV Managing Director Reinhild Haacker had presented the current figures from the Federal Statistical Office, according to which the material prices for renovation systems and pipes are currently at a high level.

A lot of demand, but decreasing project sizes

"The current uncertainty due to the attack on Ukraine is also making itself felt in a decline in project sizes. We are observing that the project sizes in pipe rehabilitation are becoming smaller and smaller. However, the advantages of trenchless rehabilitation methods compared to open pipe laying only become clear when the projects are of a corresponding size," says Ralf Glanert from Wavin. Rarely are rehabilitation projects of one or two kilometres commissioned in Germany - with correspondingly higher costs than for longer rehabilitation projects.

More sustainability, "but just don't paint it green!"

Jörg Sommer from Simona, a manufacturer of PE and PP pipes, expects further effects due to rising energy prices. "The expected energy costs will affect us all. Likewise, we need to have the most important topics of sustainability, carbon foodprint with reference to trenchless construction methods more on the agenda. Here we have a huge potential of CO2 emission savings." Susanne Leddig-Bahls from IQS-Engineering agreed with him, but at the same time warned against easily identifiable greenwashing activities: "But we must not simply paint ourselves green". There must be sustainability certifications not only for the products, but for the entire range of processes. The acceptance of trenchless rehabilitation techniques must be improved across the board in Germany, Leddig-Bahls demands. "There is a lack of knowledge. You can also see that in the product tests."

Asbestos fibre cement pipes: Municipalities on hold

One problem that concerns participants from the south of Germany is the issue of pipes made of asbestos fibre cement (AZ). "Many municipalities in Bavaria are waiting for the state government to back down from its stance of not approving refurbishments," explains Daniel Korczinski, who as project manager is pushing for the recognition of low-emission methods. Bavaria's Environment Minister Torsten Glauber had recently said that leaving it in the ground was the lowest-risk approach.

Saving energy in the sewage treatment plant with refurbishment

"These are a lot of topics that we are dealing with right now and that will also keep us busy in 2023," summarised RSV Board Chairman Andreas Haacker. "Companies and network operators are currently going through the crises together - that's why it's important that we as an association support both sides, for example through the working groups, statements and projects like the recognition of AZ remediation procedures." In the energy crisis, wastewater operators and companies are in the same boat, according to Haacker. "Those who push for the rehabilitation of the networks avoid the infiltration of extraneous water into the networks. Cleaning wastewater costs energy - they can save that in the wastewater treatment plant."

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