The Earth’s oceans connect the world in a way that no other natural resource does; they play a critical role in our livelihoods and environment by sustaining cultures, communities, and ecosystems. During National Ocean Month, the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE's) Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) celebrates the connection our oceans foster among all life on Earth, along with the power potential we have yet to discover.

Ocean crashing against rocks.

Photo by Deb Lastowka, NREL

With oceans covering 71% of the planet, WPTO is diving even deeper into those waters, working to protect, understand, and leverage the immense renewable energy found in the ocean. Marine energy resources are geographically diverse and can complement existing energy sources, with the potential to provide power for 50% of the U.S. population living within 50 miles of the shoreline. From building resilient coastal communities to providing power at sea, WPTO is enabling energy innovation that is entirely transforming marine energy.

As part of WPTO’s trailblazing efforts, the Powering the Blue Economy™ initiative aims to explore how to sustainably use ocean energy to power ocean-observing devices, offshore aquaculture, and remote or islanded communities, thereby improving livelihoods, creating jobs, and building economic growth—all while preserving ocean ecosystems. By supporting the ingenuity and creativity of innovators nationwide, we can all better understand and sustain the beauty and life in our oceans.

To help achieve our collective economic, social, and environmental goals, WPTO is calling on problem solvers across the United States to help address complex issues. By leveraging prizes and competitions as unique and accessible funding mechanisms, WPTO is uniting a diverse community of innovators around targeted challenges. These prize models support competitors from all walks of life, empowering them to tackle climate change, spur the transition to a sustainable and equitable clean energy economy, and propel the creation of new jobs and opportunities.

Powering the Blue Economy prizes and competitions highlights:

Ocean Observing Prize

WPTO has partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Integrated Ocean Observing System Office to develop the Ocean Observing Prize. WPTO is counting on innovators, entrepreneurs, and academics across the country to create technologies that integrate marine renewable energy with ocean-observing platforms to help improve the ability to forecast hurricane intensity and protect coastal communities from incoming storms. The end goal is to find solutions that will ultimately close data gaps and revolutionize the ability to collect the information needed to understand, map, and monitor the ocean. In April, NOAA and DOE announced seven winners of the DESIGN Contestthe first of three consecutive contests in the prize’s DEVELOP Competition. The competitors are now participating in the BUILD Contestthe second of the three contests, in which each team will build and test their devices in a state-of-the-art wave tank at the U.S. Navy’s Maneuvering and Seakeeping Basin in Carderock, Maryland, in early 2022.

Waves to Water Prize

The wave of innovation doesn’t end there. In February, DOE announced 10 winners in the ADAPT stage of the Waves to Water Prize, a five-stage, $3.3-million competition focused on using the power of waves to develop clean-energy-powered desalination technologies. The contest aims to accelerate innovation in small, modular, wave-powered desalination systems capable of producing clean water in disaster recovery scenarios and for water-scarce coastal and island locations. WPTO has called on a diverse group of entrepreneurs, academics, hardware developers, and inventors to take part in the ground-breaking effort to spark innovation in desalination and marine renewable energy technologies.

Marine Energy Collegiate Competition

As our nation begins to address the problems associated with climate change, WPTO understands that the perseverance and insight of the next generation is key to building a modern and sustainable infrastructure. This year, WPTO hosted the second annual Marine Energy Collegiate Competition, which called on university students to help transform the marine energy industry and, ultimately, advance the blue economy. Fifteen competing teams offered diverse and creative solutions to unlock the power of our oceans, rivers, and tides, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and WPTO were thrilled to announce three collegiate teams as overall winners of the 2021 Marine Energy Collegiate Competition. With designs spanning wave-powered desalination systems to energy storage and transfer technologies at sea, the winning teams demonstrated the vast potential of blue economy applications.

Throughout June, WPTO honors National Ocean Month by celebrating the many ideas, people, communities, and collaborations that our powerful ocean brings together. While we still have much to learn from the waves, tides, and currents, it’s no secret that our life-sustaining oceans are a boundless source of inspiration and opportunity.

Learn more about WPTO’s efforts that focus on supporting communities and marine life while advancing the blue economy.

Stay up to date with WPTO prizes and competitions. Sign up for the Water Wire and WPTO STEM newsletters to hear the latest news.

Jennifer Garson
Jennifer is the Acting Director of the Water Power Technologies Office, as well as a Senior Advisor and Acting Program Manager for Outreach, Engagement and Analysis in the Water Power Technologies Office at the U.S. Department of Energy, where she supports research and development in hydropower and marine renewable energy.
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