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Today, in celebration of World Water Day, we’d like to help recognize the importance of safe, secure, and affordable water in safeguarding human health, enabling energy production, and powering our economy.

Water is fundamental to life but is often taken for granted. The same can be said for energy. Both benefit greatly from technology and innovation to improve reliability, security, and affordability. Energy and water systems are also highly interdependent. Energy is required to extract, treat, and deliver water. In the same vein, water is used in multiple phases of energy production and electricity generation, from hydraulic fracturing and irrigating crops for biofuels to providing cooling water for thermoelectric power plants.

At the Department of Energy we are focused on improving the efficiency and performance of both our energy and water systems. For these reasons, in October 2018, Secretary Perry launched the Water Security Grand Challenge, a White House-initiated, Department of Energy-led initiative to advance transformational technology and innovation to meet the global need for safe, secure, and affordable water.

Under the Water Security Grand Challenge, we seek to achieve five goals by 2030:

  • Launch desalination technologies that deliver cost-competitive clean water;
  • Transform the energy sector’s produced water from a waste to a resource;
  • Achieve near-zero water impact for new thermoelectric power plants, and significantly lower freshwater use intensity within the existing fleet;
  • Double resource recovery from municipal wastewater; and
  • Develop small modular energy-water systems for urban, rural, tribal, national security, and disaster response settings.

Since the Secretary launched the Grand Challenge in October, we have been focused on advancing a coordinated suite of programs to address the goals, including prize competitions and early-stage research and development. This is a cross-government effort that has so far benefited from critical contributions from our interagency partners, such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Interior, and Department of Agriculture. Since the Challenge’s formal launch, DOE’s recent accomplishments include:

  • Announcing the Energy-Water Desalination Hub, a $100 million funding opportunity to provide secure and affordable water through desalination;
  • Launching the Waves to Water Desalination Prize, a competition to spur innovation in wave energy-powered desalination systems; 
  • Signing a Cooperation Agreement with Chevron Technology Ventures on the Chevron Tech Challenge for produced water—a contest seeking cost-effective solutions for managing produced water from oil and gas exploration; and
  • Signing an agreement with The Water Council, a Milwaukee-based non-profit organization, to support its efforts to develop prize competitions to drive innovation on new water technologies, such as sensors to support intelligent water systems, advanced filtration and alternative disinfection.

And this is just the beginning. A major focus in the next few months will be developing new prize competitions and foundational R&D to spur breakthrough advances in the five goal areas.

As the White House Office of Innovation explains, prize competitions are powerful tools in driving innovation because they: reach beyond the “usual suspects” to increase the number of solution providers; identify novel approaches; pay only for success; and bring out-of-discipline perspectives to bear. As Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said at the March 13, 2018 roundtable at the White House, “Throughout history, competition has brought out the best in Americans and driven them to break through barriers, opening the door to stunning achievements. In this country competitive spirit has unleashed incredible innovation and turned fiction into reality.”

As we continue this important work, we welcome collaboration and participation from interagency partners and key stakeholders, including private industry, academia, nongovernmental organizations, and state and local governments. Please submit your ideas on efforts we can undertake to propel our efforts toward reaching our goals to