Marine Energy Program

Powering the Blue Economy Initiative

Project Name: Ocean Observation Prize Update

Project Team: National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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Today, more than 80% of the ocean remains unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored. To help monitor, track, and learn more about the oceans, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO), in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Integrated Ocean Observing System, launched the Ocean Observing Prize as part of the Powering the Blue Economy initiative. Administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), the prize challenges innovators to integrate marine renewable energy with ocean observation platforms and develop innovative technologies that can help fill the data gaps that make it difficult to predict the intensity of hurricanes. Accurate forecasting could better protect coastal communities from the disastrous impacts of oncoming storms.

Following the completion of the first competition, DISCOVER, the prize moved into the second competition, DEVELOP, which is made up of three distinct contests: DESIGN, BUILD, and SPLASH. Over the course of the competition, contestants turn their theoretical designs for wave-powered autonomous underwater vessels into prototype systems for hurricane monitoring. In late 2020 and into early 2021, 16 teams competed in the DESIGN Contest. WPTO announced seven winners, which were awarded a total of $400,000 and invited to compete in the BUILD Contest.

Image of a giant hurricane seen from outer space.

Climate change will likely forge more destructive hurricanes, which is why it is important scientists watch the oceans for signs of storms. Now, to power this critical work, the Ocean Observing Prize is helping accelerate the development of novel ocean observing technologies that run on clean, renewable ocean energy. Photo courtesy of NASA

The BUILD Contest began in April 2021 and will identify promising technologies relevant to NOAA’s mission that could be tested in an open water environment. The seven teams refined their DESIGN Contest concepts in preparation to build and test their prototype designs in a controlled environment that will create realistic ocean conditions. This testing will be performed in 2022 at the Maneuvering and Seakeeping Basin within Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division, a world-class test facility in Bethesda, Maryland. Winners of the BUILD Contest will advance to the final stage of the prize: the SPLASH Contest. During this stage, which PNNL will host, competitors will test their prototypes on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington.

The Ocean Observing Prize is designed to be repeatable and future competitions may focus on other themes. Through this competition, innovators will be able to tap into DOE’s network of national laboratories, energy incubators and accelerators, subject-matter experts, and other resources across the nation to build novel technologies that collect critical ocean data.

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