The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) had a busy 2023! The office ran five prizes (and supported two more), hosted two collegiate competitions, opened two funding opportunity announcements (including WPTO's largest funding opportunity to date!), teamed up with federal partners including DOE's Wind Energy Technologies Office (WETO) and the National Science Foundation to fund additional opportunities, and selected new funding and technical assistance recipients throughout the year. Take a look back at some of WPTO's exciting work and news from the past year. 

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What did the U.S. Department of Energy's Water Power Technologies Office get up to in 2023? This video highlights some of the work the office's experts and partners across the water power sector took on to help build the clean energy future.
Video by the U.S. Department of Energy

January

WPTO announced the winners of the third phase of the Hydropower Operations Optimization (H2Os) Prize. This prize challenged innovators to employ modeling, mathematical optimization, data science, and machine learning to create new ways for hydropower systems to coordinate with existing grid scheduling practices and meet water management needs, such as water supply, environmental flow requirements, and flood management. The third phase increased the complexity of water management requirements, asked competitors to manage longer-term schedules, and added demand profiles that reflect significant solar integration. Team HydroFlex won the $30,000 first place prize.

Photo from Sandia National Laboratories
Rapid waterfalls rush down a half-mile stretch of the Nuyakuk River, the site location near Dillingham, Alaska, for a potential hydroelectric project.
Image from Sandia National Laboratories

Also in January, WPTO highlighted Nushagak Electric and Telephone Cooperative’s technical assistance project focused on evaluating the environmental and economic impacts of a potential run-of-river hydroelectric project in Dillingham, Alaska. This work took place through DOE’s Energy Transitions Initiative Partnership Project.

With the projects selected in January, the Testing Expertise and Access for Marine Energy Research program surpassed $10 million in technical support across more than 100 marine energy projects since it launched in May 2020.

February

WPTO released the report from its 2022 Peer Review. This report included feedback and recommendations from a team of independent experts who evaluated WPTO-funded projects across the Hydropower and Marine Energy programs as the office works to further the United States' clean energy goals.

March

WPTO selected a project for a $3.7 million investment from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. This project aims to deepen relationships and trust between hydropower and river stakeholders to better incorporate community priorities in hydropower R&D activities. 

In the announcement of a new memorandum of understanding between WPTO and the Tennessee Valley Authority, WPTO Director Jennifer Garson stated, "Today's hydropower fleet has a crucial role to play in achieving the United States' clean energy goals, but strategies for operating those plants will have to evolve as more renewable energy resources come onto the grid." The agreement will enhance efforts to boost hydropower’s ability to meet the electricity grid’s changing needs.

WPTO launched the Innovating Distributed Embedded Energy Prize (InDEEP), which encourages competitors to investigate novel technologies for harnessing and converting the power of ocean waves into usable types of energy. The prize seeks to foster the development of distributed embedded energy converter technologies, which combine many small energy converters, often less than a few centimeters in size, into a single, larger ocean wave energy converter. This larger system could convert energy from a wide range of ocean locations and wave types.

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An overview video on WPTO, released in March, explains the office's breadth of work to enable research, development, and testing of emerging technologies to advance marine energy as well as next-generation hydropower and pumped storage systems for a flexible, reliable grid.
Video by the U.S. Department of Energy

April

"Gotta love that everyone is talking about water power!" WPTO Director Jennifer Garson wrote in a social post highlighting two podcast episodes focused on water power. Garson joined the Volts podcast to talk about both hydropower and marine energy, and Marine Energy Program Manager Tim Ramsey spoke on The Interchange: Recharged about advancements in the marine energy sector.

One year after the Waves to Water Prize finale, finalists reflected on how the prize helped them advance their wave-powered desalination systems, which harness power from ocean waves to make clean drinking water. "That was a super exciting moment," shared the team from Oneka Technologies, recalling when they got to test their device in real ocean waves. "Our philosophy is that you need to be in the ocean to learn, and the DRINK Finale gave us real-life experience."

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An overview video on WPTO, released in March, explains the office's breadth of work to enable research, development, and testing of emerging technologies to advance marine energy as well as next-generation hydropower and pumped storage systems for a flexible, reliable grid.
Video by the U.S. Department of Energy
A group photo of undergraduate and graduate students.
Competitors from the 2023 Hydropower and Marine Energy Collegiate Competitions at Waterpower Week.
Photo by Taylor Mankle, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

May

WPTO announced the winners of the 2023 Hydropower and Marine Energy Collegiate Competitions, which help undergraduate and graduate students prepare for jobs in hydropower, marine energy, and related industries by challenging them to develop unique solutions to advance these technologies. Both competitions culminated in final events during the National Hydropower Association's Waterpower Week 2023 in Washington, D.C.

Also during Waterpower Week, WPTO released its largest funding opportunity to date—a $45 million opportunity to advance a comprehensive approach to tidal and current energy development in the United States. Funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, this opportunity will invest in a tidal and/or current energy research, development, and demonstration site in the United States. It will also support a community-led tidal and/or current energy planning and development project.

June

To mark World Oceans Day on June 8, three WPTO experts shared why they love the ocean, what it means to them personally, and opportunities to harness the tremendous power of the ocean to help fight climate change.

Eleven people standing behind a poster-sized sign for the Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize
The grand prize winners of the Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize proposed plans that would bring climate and clean energy benefits to their communities.
Photo by Werner Slocum, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

DOE announced the six grand prize winners of the Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize, which was supported, in part, by WPTO. This prize aimed to foster a just and equitable clean energy future by investing in community-led innovation and entrepreneurship programs in areas historically underserved by federal funding. The winning teams received $250,000 each for their entrepreneurship, job training, mentorship, and other solutions to expand clean energy and economic opportunities in underserved communities.

WPTO also announced $4.3 million in technical assistance projects through its HydroWIRES Initiative to aid the hydropower community in making well-informed decisions while achieving broader benefits for the electricity grid. The projects will provide pumped storage hydropower developers and other stakeholders with DOE national laboratory expertise and capabilities to address valuation hurdles in project development and help the broader hydropower community address specific challenges related to the HydroWIRES mission.

July

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Sea Grant College Program and WPTO announced support for three projects in Alaska, Guam, and Hawai'i that will examine how adoption of ocean renewable energy—which harnesses the power of ocean waves, tides, and currents, or even the differences in salt levels, temperatures, and pressure—could support sustainable energy systems. The projects include community engagement activities that will help illuminate community values, perceptions, and cultural contexts around energy innovation and resilience.

WPTO announced nearly $10 million for seven marine energy projects. Six are focused on advancing wave-powered desalination technologies, and one will assess the feasibility of establishing an ocean current test facility off the coast of Florida. Of the six desalination projects, four are led by finalists from WPTO's Waves to Water Prize who are now applying insights gained to advance their new projects.

August

To recognize National Hydropower Day on August 24, WPTO highlighted why hydropower is key to a dependable clean energy future given its ability to stabilize the grid during extreme weather, help communities achieve energy independence, and create local jobs.

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Hydropower has been and will continue to be key to a clean energy grid. WPTO supports research and development focused on modernizing existing infrastructure and developing new technologies.
Video by the U.S. Department of Energy

To encourage foundational marine energy research at U.S. institutions of higher education, WPTO and WETO announced a notice of intent to issue a $14.5 million funding opportunity. (This funding opportunity is now open, and concept papers are due Feb. 20, 2024!) 

September

WPTO announced more than $13 million for projects funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to develop technologies to retrofit non-powered dams with power-generating infrastructure, advance technologies that could accelerate the deployment of pumped storage hydropower, and support hydropower research and development by emerging organizations not extensively engaged with WPTO.

WPTO also selected $6.3 million in projects to improve fish passage and protection technologies and help reduce hydropower impacts on species and ecosystems. Fish passage and protection technologies provide a way for fish to navigate barriers such as dams and impoundments and provide river connectivity by enabling fish movement and migrations. 

The fourth edition of the Hydropower Market Report combined the latest data from public and commercial sources, as well as research findings from other DOE research and development projects, to provide a comprehensive picture of developments in the U.S. hydropower and pumped storage hydropower fleet and industry trends. The report highlighted developments from 2020–2022 (since the publication of the last report) and summarized this information by region, plant size, owner type, and other attributes.

WETO, in partnership with WPTO and the U.S. Department of the Interior, opened a $16.4 million funding opportunity for installation of noise reduction and reliable moorings for offshore wind and marine energy. One of the topic areas focuses on improving the integrity and monitoring of mooring lines for floating offshore wind energy systems and marine energy converters. Full applications for this opportunity are due February 29, and applicants must have submitted a concept paper to be eligible to submit a full application.

October

During the National Hydropower Association's Clean Currents conference, WPTO hosted an in-person competition for the final phase of the H2Os Prize. On the competition day, teams acted as river basin managers, competing to find the best water release schedules, and were challenged to respond to an unexpected wildfire in the vicinity of the river basin. Linear Intelligence of Apex, North Carolina, was awarded the $25,000 grand prize.

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Curious how a changing climate might impact hydropower? This video, published in October, explains how WPTO is working to understand the consequences of climate change on hydropower's unique role in the clean energy future.
Video by the U.S. Department of Energy

November

WPTO announced the InDEEP Phase I winners, who developed an initial distributed embedded energy converter technology concept, submitted a brief technical narrative representing their idea and innovation process, and completed a simplified technology performance level assessment to reflect their concept’s potential economic performance. Nineteen teams shared $285,000 in cash prizes for their concepts. InDEEP Phase II is open and welcomes both new and returning competitors. Phase II submissions are due May 7.

WPTO launched the Powering the Blue Economy™: Power at Sea Prize, which will award up to $1.7 million to competitors to advance technologies that use marine energy to power ocean-based activities. To accelerate the commercialization of the nascent marine energy industry, competitors' concepts should have a high potential for eventual deployment at sea. The first phase, CONCEPT, is open for submissions and will close on July 26.

Through the new $9.5 million Strategies to Increase Hydropower Flexibility funding opportunity, WPTO aims to help increase hydropower's flexibility, allowing it to better balance the variability of resources such as wind and solar on the power system. Concept papers for this funding opportunity are due on Feb. 1, followed by full applications on April 25.

December

WPTO is seeking applications related to both hydropower and marine energy technologies in nine subtopics through the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. In early December, the office hosted an informational webinar on these topics. A recording, along with the slides, from the webinar are available on WPTO's website. The funding opportunity recently opened, and letters of intent are due Feb. 2.

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