The Department of Energy (DOE) is seeking feedback from the public on how to tackle key barriers that may prevent long-term access to low-cost water supplies that could be best addressed through challenges and prize competitions. Challenges and prize competitions rely on competitive structures to drive innovation among a broad set of participants and usually offer financial and/or other rewards to winners and finalists. Earlier this year, DOE released a Request for Information (RFI) in conjunction with a roundtable discussion led by Energy Secretary Rick Perry on the use of federal prizes and challenges to drive innovation, particularly when it comes to critical water issues. DOE may use the information provided through this RFI to develop challenges and prize competitions to address these key water issues. The deadline for providing responses is May 14, 2018.
DOE’s role in water issues has been centered on the energy-water nexus—a term that describes the interconnected nature of present day energy and water systems. From the use of water in hydraulic fracturing, to providing cooling to power plants, to irrigating crops for biofuels, multiple phases of energy production and electricity generation use water. Conversely, extracting, conveying, and delivering water of appropriate quality for diverse human uses requires energy, and treating wastewaters prior to their return to the environment requires even more. DOE’s efforts in this area have been coordinated through an energy-water nexus crosscut team, with a focus on three broad categories of work:
- Data, modeling, and analysis to improve understanding and inform decision-making for a range of users;
- Targeted technology R&D opportunities within the system of water and energy flows; and
- Focused policy analysis, outreach, and stakeholder engagement, including several international collaborations.
While DOE is focused on the energy-water nexus, the RFI covers water issues more broadly. DOE is interested in collecting broad information that helps define the key water issues that could be addressed through challenges and prize competitions whether they concern energy explicitly, implicitly, or not at all. Responses collected through this RFI may be shared with other agencies to help them craft related prize competitions and challenges.
As stated in a White House blog post, the Trump Administration strongly supports efforts by Federal agencies to host prizes and challenges, particularly those that leverage COMPETES Act authority, to address some of the Nation’s most pressing issues. These prizes and challenges have a strong record of fostering innovation, solving complex problems, spurring private sector job growth, saving taxpayer dollars, and improving the quality of life for all Americans.
"Competition brings out the best in us," Secretary Perry said. "It’s a uniquely American approach to problem solving—compete and innovate. Americans have always done extraordinary things to make sure the next generation has a better life than the one before it."