The U.S. Department of Energy Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) finds solutions by tapping into the ingenuity and creativity of innovators nationwide. By leveraging prizes and competitions as a unique, accessible funding mechanism, WPTO is coalescing a diverse community of innovators around targeted challenges.

These prize models support the Administration’s work to encourage a more diverse set of innovators empowered to tackle the challenge of climate change, spur the transition to a sustainable and equitable clean energy economy, and propel the creation of new jobs and opportunities.  WPTO engages the broader industry to support the progress competitors make within the prizes through mentorship, trainings, and industry connections, ultimately aiming to accelerate water power technology innovations. Learn more about how your organization can get involved.  

Prizes can help introduce, expand, and evolve what is possible for both the hydropower and marine energy industries. They can enable WPTO—and the federal government—to:

  • Inspire the next generation of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to solve the clean energy challenges we are facing today.
  • Establish ambitious goals without having to predict which team or approach is most likely to succeed.
  • Reach beyond the usual stakeholders to increase the diversity and number of perspectives working to develop solutions for a specific problem.
  • Foster interdisciplinary collaboration and perspectives, reflective of the modern research environment.
  • Make it easy for anyone to participate, bringing diverse innovators and representatives from both private sector and the government to leverage resources.
  • Make innovation engaging, fast, and agile. Rapid innovation cycles will help boost competitiveness and accelerate the transition of inventions to industry.
  • Collaborate closely with other federal agencies in the design and implementation of prizes through Challenge.gov.

Every prize is structured differently, and the details matter. Make sure to follow the detailed instructions to submit your entry correctly and before the posted deadline.

Current Prizes & Competitions

Marine Energy Collegiate Competition

WPTO hosts an annual competition for university students to help advance one of the most up-and-coming industries: marine energy. The Marine Energy Collegiate Competition (MECC) is designed to challenge interdisciplinary teams of undergraduate and graduate students to offer unique solutions to the burgeoning marine energy industry that can play a vital role in powering the blue economy. The competition will provide students with real-world experience and industry connections that will help them prepare for future careers in the marine energy sector and the blue economy.

The MECC will be held at Water Power Week in Spring 2022.

Visit the competition website for more details.

Ocean Observing Prize

Ocean observations underpin our ability to understand the ocean, predict and track potentially destructive tropical storms, monitor fish stocks that communities depend on for sustenance, alert coastal areas of deadly tsunamis, and even monitor for sub-sea activities of foreign powers to protect our uniformed service members.

However, over 80% of the ocean remains unexplored, and without the requisite observations, data, monitoring, and forecasting capabilities, it is difficult for industry to make the strategic siting, development, and management decisions needed to realize the full potential of the blue economy. Given the improvements in computer processing over the last two decades, energy has become the primary constraint on the capabilities of affordable ocean observing platforms such as sensors, autonomous underwater vehicles, buoys, floats, tags, and more.

The Powering the Blue Economy™: Ocean Observing Prize challenges innovators to integrate marine renewable energy with ocean observation platforms, ultimately revolutionizing our capability to collect the data needed to understand, map, and monitor the ocean.

This joint prize between WPTO and NOAA’s Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) Office seeks to develop new technologies that can help fill the data gaps making it difficult to realize the full potential of the blue economy. The Ocean Observing Prize includes a series of competitions, with millions of dollars in awards, to encourage rapid innovation in the fields of marine energy and ocean observations.

Visit the competition website for more details.

Waves To Water Prize

Wave-powered desalination technologies hold the potential to deliver clean water to communities for disaster relief purposes and to remote communities around the globe. Through the five-stage, $3.3M Waves to Water Prize, WPTO aims to accelerate innovation in small, modular, cost-competitive desalination systems that use the power of ocean waves to provide clean drinking water for disaster recovery and for remote and coastal communities.

Over three years, the prize offers innovators a pathway from initial concept, to technical design, to prototype, to field testing systems that provide clean, abundant drinking water using only waves as a power source. In the final stage of the prize, these systems will be tested in partnership with the Coastal Studies Institute at Jennette’s Pier on the coast of North Carolina.

The Wave to Water Prize supports the integration of existing and novel wave-energy generation technologies with water technologies that can deliver effective, consistent, durable, and low-maintenance water delivery systems. The prize seeks to identify the ideal scale of wave energy innovation paired with water technologies that can serve niche markets such as disaster response and advance the state of both wave-energy devices and desalination technologies that could provide value in other markets as the technologies mature.

Visit the competition website for more details.

Past Prizes

Furthering Advancements to Shorten Time to Commissioning for Pumped Storage Hydropower Prize (FAST Prize)

The Furthering Advancements to Shorten Time (FAST) Commissioning for Pumped-Storage Hydropower Prize was designed to attract ideas to reduce the time, cost, and risk required to commission pumped-storage hydropower projects. The first prize of its kind, the FAST Prize was structured to support anyone with a great idea and the motivation to develop it into a full business concept. In October 2019, three Grand Prize winners each received a share of the $550,000 cash and in-kind support prize pool for their innovative ideas to accelerate the historically slow process of commissioning pumped-storage hydropower projects.

This competition is closed. Visit the competition website to learn more about the prize winners.

Fish Protection Prize

When fish swim into pipes and dam intakes, they become separated from their natural habitat, which impacts native populations, threatens biodiversity, and impedes recovery efforts for threatened and endangered species. WPTO, in collaboration with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, launched the Fish Protection Prize, to inspire innovators to compete for $700,000 of combined cash prizes and voucher support to help protect fish from these threats.  In September 2020, three teams were selected as Grand Prize winners, and these teams worked alongside researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to advance their solutions.

Competitors proposed solutions for any fish species found in the United States and that could be applied to river and irrigation canal diversions, unscreened diversion pipes for irrigation or municipal water supplies, cooling water intakes of power plants, or dam intakes. New ideas for addressing fish exclusion or improvements to existing technologies were also welcomed.

This competition is closed. Follow the Grand Prize winners progress at the competition website

Groundbreaking Hydro Prize

Geotechnical foundations are fundamental to dam safety, stability, and performance but can present technical and economic challenges for new hydropower design and construction. WPTO launched the Groundbreaking Hydro Prize to encourage new ideas to cut the costs, timelines, and risks associated with hydropower development. This competition challenged innovators to come up with new solutions to support hydropower project development by starting at square one—the foundation.

In April 2021, two teams were selected as winners to share a cash pool of $75,000.

Through the Groundbreaking Hydro Prize, WPTO solicited solutions to address key challenges faced in one or more of the three foundation development phases: geotechnical site assessment, foundation design, and foundation construction.

This competition is closed. Visit the competition website to learn more about the prize winners

I AM Hydro Prize

Advanced manufacturing is revolutionizing the way products are designed and built for countless industries by lowering costs, improving designs, and reducing production timelines. WPTO launched the Innovations in Advanced Manufacturing for Hydropower (I AM Hydro) Prize to lower the costs of hydropower components and systems designs by leveraging advancements in manufacturing and material.

I AM Hydro innovators competed for up to $175,000 in cash prizes and helped support the hydropower industry using the ingenuity of advanced manufacturing.

The prize was designed to spur innovation by engaging a national community of visionaries who are not typically associated with the hydropower industry and target levelized cost of energy reductions in hydropower design, manufacturing, and operation and maintenance.

This competition is closed. Visit the competition website to learn more about the prize winners.

Wave Energy Prize

In 2016, AquaHarmonics took home the $1.5 million grand prize in the Energy Department's Wave Energy Prize, an 18-month design-build-test competition to increase the energy capture potential of wave energy devices. CalWave Power Technologies and Waveswing America were awarded second and third place, respectively, with $500,000 and $250,000 in cash prizes. The goal of the Wave Energy Prize was to stimulate the development of innovative wave energy converters that have the prospect for becoming commercially competitive with other forms of electricity generation.

This competition is closed.