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

Hydropower Collegiate Competition

Hydropower is critical to reaching 100% clean energy and decarbonization by 2035. The modernization of hydropower is an exciting place to contribute as it offers significant opportunities for innovation and customization to foster a transition to low impact hydropower as the mainstay of this important renewable resource option. Yet, the future of U.S. hydropower relies on a new generation of skilled workers. WPTO and NREL established the competition in partnership with the Hydropower Foundation to pave the way for next-generation workers to start their clean energy careers and offer solutions to complex hydropower challenges.

Visit the competition website for more details. 

Hydropower Operations Optimization (H2Os) Prize

As the U.S. grid evolves and integrates more variable renewable energy resources like wind and solar, hydropower will need to adapt to changing grid conditions and support the reliability and resiliency of the grid while also meeting water management needs, such as water supply, environmental flow requirements, and management of nuisance flooding. WPTO launched the Hydropower Operations Optimization (H2Os) Prize to encourage the development of new solutions that can help advance hydropower’s contribution to the grid.

This competition challenges innovators to employ modeling, data analytics, and machine learning to schedule hydropower operations in coordination with existing grid scheduling practices while respecting water management operations and constraints. The three-phase competition is offering a combined cash prize pool of up to $75,000.

The H2Os Prize also seeks to solve some of the most near-term challenges in the clean energy transition by improving the grid’s reliability and resiliency. By increasing hydropower’s ability to operate flexibly and support variable energy resources, this prize also supports the Biden Administration’s goal of a decarbonized power sector by 2035.

Visit the competition website for more details.

INCLUSIVE ENERGY INNOVATION PRIZE

Disadvantaged communities have experienced—and still experience—the negative impacts of climate change, global warming, and pollution at higher rates than the general population. DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) and the Office of Economic Impact and Diversity (ED) recognize that improvements are needed to make the clean energy innovation ecosystem more inclusive and accessible to disadvantaged communities and individuals from groups historically underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Eight technology offices within EERE launched the Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize, and WPTO celebrates the opportunity to collaborate with these offices.

Through the $2.5 million Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize, DOE aims to fund up to 10 organizations for ongoing and/or proposed activities related to climate and clean energy that support, build trust, and strengthen relationships and partnerships with disadvantaged communities. Specifically, this prize seeks to enable and enhance business and technology incubation, acceleration, and other community-based and university-based entrepreneurship and innovation in climate and clean energy technologies.

To help break down barriers between DOE and historically underrepresented communities, the prize launched the “What’s Your Vision?” campaign—inviting people to share a brief message about their expectations for an equitable clean energy future.

Visit the competition website for more details.

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 final event is held annually at Water Power Week or a related industry event in the spring.

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. Currently in the BUILD Stage, 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.

Past Prizes

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

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.

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.

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 aimed 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 offered 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. The final stage of the prize took place in April 2022, when finalists tested their systems in partnership with the Coastal Studies Institute at Jennette’s Pier on the coast of North Carolina.

The Wave to Water Prize supported the integration of existing and novel wave-energy generation technologies with water technologies that have the potential to deliver effective, consistent, durable, and low-maintenance water delivery systems. The prize helped 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 can provide value in other markets as the technologies mature.

This competition is closed. Visit the competition website for more details.