The U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) today announced eight winners of Phase One of the Hydropower Operations Optimization (H2Os) Prize. These teams are developing cutting-edge solutions for more innovative hydropower operational schemes with the potential to advance hydropower’s contributions to the United States’ goal of decarbonizing the power grid by 2035.

Logo H2Os prize.

H2Os Prize competitors are helping solve some of the most near-term challenges in the clean energy transition by optimizing hydropower operations to improve grid reliability and resiliency. Phase Two of the three-phase prize is now open to new and returning competitors.

“These innovators are helping make hydropower more flexible,” said Dr. Sam Bockenhauer, lead of WPTO’s HydroWIRES Initiative. “They are helping to design a more resilient energy system, offering new ideas on how hydropower can provide flexible, on-demand power for our grid, especially as more variable renewable energy resources come online.”

For more than a century, hydropower has been among the nation’s largest sources of renewable energy. While the hydropower industry is well established, new opportunities continue to arise for innovating and modernizing hydropower technologies.

The three-stage H2Os Prize challenges innovators to upgrade hydropower technology using 21st century solutions. Competitors are applying modeling, data analytics, and machine learning to create new ways for hydropower systems to plan daily grid operations and meet water management needs, such as water supply, environmental flow requirements, and flood management.

Team HydroFlex, led by Alex Farley at the University of Utah, was awarded the $3,000 first prize for Phase One.

In addition, the following teams were awarded $1,000 each in Phase One for their innovative ideas to expand hydropower’s role in the clean energy transition:

  • Hydrophile led by Kirinina von Slomski
  • Littoral Power Systems led by David Duquette
  • Maroon 3 led by Sungkwang Mun at Mississippi State University
  • MST_Power led by Rui Bo at Missouri University of Science and Technology
  • Vassar Labs Inc. led by Laxmiprasad Putta
  • Wenyuan Tang at North Carolina State University
  • Yul Young Park

As part of WPTO’s Hydropower and Water Innovation for a Resilient Electricity System (HydroWIRES) Initiative, the H2Os Prize focuses on ways hydropower can complement variable renewables, like wind and solar. When the wind slows and the sun sets, dams and reservoirs can kick in to add power quickly and cut back again when breezes pick up and the sun rises.

To continue encouraging innovative solutions for complex hydropower challenges, the H2Os Prize includes two more phases—each open to new and returning competitors. Phase Two, which closed on Aug. 18, 2022, asked competitors to plan grid operations and meet water management needs while satisfying more real-world factors in hydropower operations like water flow requirements and water consumption demands.

The H2Os Prize welcomes applications from those familiar with hydropower, machine learning, data science, and/or optimization. Diverse, multidisciplinary teams are encouraged to apply to help solve some of the most near-term challenges in the clean energy transition by improving the performance of hydropower system operations.  

WPTO hosted an R&D Deep Dive webinar on Aug. 2, 2022, at 1 p.m. ET with the team members who created the H2Os Prize. These experts shared their reflections on Phase One and what to look forward to in Phase Two.

The H2Os Prize is funded by WPTO and administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in partnership with RTI International.  

Learn more about participating in the prize and contact for more information. 

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