WPTO’s Powering the Blue Economy: Ocean Observing Prize is a multistage competition run in partnership with the National Oceanographic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that challenges innovators to integrate marine renewable energy with ocean observation platforms, potentially unlocking the ability to map, understand, and monitor the ocean. By removing the need for the system to be brought back to shore or to a research vessel for recharging, marine energy could revolutionize the ability to observe the ocean. In 2019, WPTO launched the DISCOVER Competition, engaging more than 60 teams representing a range of competitors, such as universities and marine energy companies and corporations. WPTO used ideas put forward in the competition to help inform the subsequent DEVELOP stage of the prize.

More than 80% of the ocean is unmapped, unobserved, and unexplored. And ocean-observing systems and missions are increasingly constrained by energy limitations that impede data transmission and limit time spent at sea. Through the Ocean Observing Prize, WPTO seeks to change that by challenging innovators to integrate ocean-observing sensors and platforms with marine renewable energy technologies.

The multiyear, multiphase Ocean Observing Prize combines a series of competitions with up to $3 million in cash prizes to encourage innovation in the fields of marine energy and ocean observations. The first phase, the DISCOVER Competition, commenced in November 2019. Competitors submitted novel concepts that integrate ocean-observing technologies with marine energy systems to address end-user needs across five broad themes: (1) unmanned vehicles; (2) communications and underwater navigation; (3) extreme environments; (4) buoys, floats, and tags; and (5) blue sea ideas (i.e., other). The ideas proposed in this competition—ranging from autonomous underwater vehicles to weather buoys to electronic tags for marine animals—encompassed mobile and stationary technologies. Competitors were evaluated on the impact of their innovation, end-user market potential, and technical feasibility. Eleven winners were selected and awarded a total of $125,000.

breakwater structure  in the ocean.
Receiving renewable energy funding for the first time, one of the DISCOVER Competition winners, Team Navatek, proposed to integrate a rapidly installed breakwater structure into an attenuating wave energy converter.
Courtesy of Team Navatek

The prize’s second phase, the DEVELOP Competition, focuses on hurricane monitoring and challenges contestants to develop their ideas into a functioning prototype through three contests: the DESIGN Contest, BUILD Contest, and SPLASH Contest. Over the course of the next two years, competitors will design, test (in tanks), and deploy systems in an open-water environment, ultimately building systems that demonstrate the viability of charging the systems needed to detect and monitor hurricanes. Hurricane monitoring is just the beginning for the competition. Subsequent iterations of the prize will focus on different ocean monitoring applications, which could include tracking critical fish stocks or even alerting coastal areas of impending deadly tsunamis. 

The prize is a joint effort between WPTO and NOAA’s Integrated Ocean Observing System program, with additional support from NREL and PNNL. The competition creates new opportunities for building partnerships between the marine energy and ocean-observing communities to address energy challenges and boost the resilience of coastal communities by extending the range of observation equipment, reducing operational costs, and enabling new data streams.

Ocean Observing Prize’s first DEVELOP competition.
The Ocean Observing Prize’s first DEVELOP competition, focused on self-charging AUVs for hurricane monitoring, includes three stages.
Courtesy of NREL

The Ocean Observing Prize is the second competition to be launched under WPTO’s Powering the Blue Economy initiative. Solutions that emerge from this effort will address energy challenges in the blue economy, further advancing ocean energy production and providing an invaluable service to coastal areas. Innovators can tap into NOAA and DOE’s network of national laboratories, technology developers, subject matter experts, and other resources to build novel technologies critical for future ocean exploration.

For additional information, contact Al LiVecchi.

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