American-Made Challenges


Groundbreaking Hydro Prize

Encourage the development of new ideas to cut the costs, timelines, and risks associated with small hydropower foundation development.
Up to $300,000 in prizes

Challenge Overview


Like roots to a tree, geotechnical foundations provide structural support to a hydropower facility, and must be developed to ensure stability, safety, and performance for decades. While foundations are central to dam safety, challenges in their design and construction can lead to major project delays and cost overruns, potentially jeopardizing a project’s success. 

Through the Groundbreaking Hydro Prize, WPTO is soliciting solutions that address key challenges faced in one or more of the three foundation development phases for small hydropower, namely:

  • Geotechnical Site Assessment: Activities performed to obtain information needed to design and construct a hydropower foundation system
  • Foundation Design: Process of using information from the site assessment to perform analyses and develop a cost-effective foundation system that meets the project design criteria
  • Foundation Construction: Activities performed by the contractor, from mobilization through project commissioning, to fully develop the foundation system.

Targeting the most promising opportunity for future hydropower growth, the prize seeks solutions that are:

  • Low head (less than 30 feet)
  • New stream-reach development (NSD): Sites defined as stream segments without hydroelectric facilities or other hydraulic structures
  • Applicable to soil foundations.

Please note that superstructures, including dams, are excluded from the prize scope. 

The majority of NSD sites are characterized by low heads and varying flows and provide essential river functions that must be protected and preserved. While NSD hydropower development is technically feasible, recent studies suggest that such deployments would likely remain limited without innovative—even transformational—technological advances.

This is where we look to our competitors. 

Proposed methods, techniques, and technologies should aim to:

  • Reduce construction costs
  • Shorten overall installation times
  • Minimize ground excavation
  • Avoid disturbances in river connectivity during installation, operation, and maintenance (e.g., not use cofferdams when possible)
  • Leverage advanced materials and techniques.
  • Prevent foundation treatment failures.

Solutions may stem from within the hydropower industry or leverage lessons learned from a diverse set of fields, from maritime construction to advanced manufacturing, offshore wind, transportation, residential and commercial building industries, and beyond to develop transformative methods or technologies that can be applied to hydropower projects. 

The Groundbreaking Hydro Prize will award $300,000 in cash prizes. Three finalists will be selected as the Groundbreaking Prize winners, each receiving $50,000; up to six Innovator Prize winners will be selected to receive $25,000 each.

Please review the official rules for the application process and instructions for competing.


Challenge Guidelines

Who can participate?

Please review the official rules for the application process and instructions for competing.

If you want to receive updates on the prize or have any questions, please subscribe by using the contact feature on the HeroX platform or reach out to us directly at .

Updates 2

Challenge Updates

Applicant Webinar Recording: Now Available

Oct. 29, 2020, 2:10 p.m. PDT by Groundbreaking Hydro

Upcoming Groundbreaking Hydro Applicant Webinar

Oct. 19, 2020, 8:20 a.m. PDT by Groundbreaking Hydro

Groundbreaking Hydro Innovators,

Join us on Wednesday, October 21, 2020 at 12pm ET for the Groundbreaking Hydro Prize applicant webinar

If you have an idea to identify novel solutions to reduce costs, timelines, and risks associated with geotechnical foundations of low-head hydropower, join us on the webinar! You could win a part of the $300,000 prize pool. 

You will hear from the prize team to gain insight into the application process, ask questions about the prize, and learn tips for a strong submission.

Register here and email us at  with questions. We look forward to seeing you there!

- The Groundbreaking Hydro Prize Team 

Forum 17
Teams 349

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, but it’s quick and easy. Just click the “Accept Challenge” button on this page and follow the instructions to complete your registration. All you need to provide is your name and email address.

If you have a question not answered in the FAQ, we recommend that you post it in the Forum where someone will respond to you. This way, others who may have the same question will be able to see it.

The prize competition is open only to: (a) citizens or permanent residents of the United States; and (b) private or non-federal public entities, such as townships, tribes, corporations, or other organizations that are incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States. Individuals can compete alone or as a member of a group. 

A representative of a private entity can register the entity to compete. If an entity is legally formed under the laws of a State or the laws of the United States, individuals working under that entity may participate regardless of immigration status. 

These restrictions apply to the entity receiving the prize funds.  It is beyond the scope of DOE's concern whether eligible participants consult with other parties on this challenge or other matters. Any individual or organization that seeks to communicate with other parties interested in this prize is welcome to do so on the community page.

DOE employees, employees of sponsoring organizations, members of their immediate families (spouses, children, siblings, and parents), and any persons living in the same household as such persons (even if unrelated) are not eligible to participate in this prize. Federal entities and federal employees, acting within the scope of their employment, are also not eligible to participate in any portion of this prize. DOE National Laboratory employees cannot participate in any stage of the prize.

Unfortunately, employees of a DOE national laboratory are not allowed to compete in any prize contest in this program.

No. If you are a contest winner, you are receiving the prize for meeting or exceeding the contest goals.

The I AM Hydro Prize is funded by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) and administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Yes. We encourage you to promote your concept to universities and other technical outlets.

This prize seeks solutions that target low-head (less than 30 ft.) new stream-reach development (NSD) sites with soil foundations. Solutions can span one or more phases of development including the geotechnical site assessment, foundation design, and foundation construction.

This prize does not seek solutions focused only on the hydropower superstructure (e.g. dam, spillway, powerhouse); concepts that are only relevant to marine or in-river hydrokinetic devices; or concepts proposing modifications to existing water infrastructure.