American-Made Challenges

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Groundbreaking Hydro Prize

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

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. 

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, incentivized innovators to develop concepts to support hydropower project development that would cut costs and project delays, with an eye on safety and environmental impacts.

 

Two teams were chosen as winners: A Groundbreaking Prize winner receiving $50,000 and an Innovator Prize winner receiving $25,000:

  • Groundbreaking Prize: 
    • Team: GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc and Littoral Power Systems, Terra-Modular Project 
    • Concept: Prefabrication of a modular hydropower foundation for a wide range of soils and substructures.

 

  • Innovator Prize
    • Team: Team Chemventive, WaterJet Drill with a Deep Array of Anchor Cables Concept 
    • Concept: Deep array of high-tension cables drilled through solid rock, using a water-jet drilling robot, to secure a steel dam in tension.

 

The Groundbreaking Hydro Prize solicited solutions to address key challenges faced in one or more of the three foundation development phases for small hydropower:

  • 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 opportunities for future hydropower growth, the prize sought solutions based on:

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

Superstructures, including dams, were 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.

Groundbreaking Hydro Prize objectives for proposed methods, techniques, and technologies included:

  • Reducing construction costs
  • Shortening overall installation times
  • Minimizing ground excavation
  • Avoiding disturbances in river connectivity during installation, operation, and maintenance (e.g., not use cofferdams when possible)
  • Leveraging advanced materials and techniques.
  • Preventing foundation treatment failures.

Innovators were encouraged to derive their solutions 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. 

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

Guidelines

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 .

Timeline
Updates 6

Challenge Updates

U.S. Department of Energy Announces Groundbreaking Hydro Prize Winners

April 8, 2021, 9:26 a.m. PDT by NREL Challenge

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) announced two teams were chosen as winners of the Groundbreaking Prize.  Winners will share a cash prize pool of $75,000. The Groundbreaking Prize winner will receive $50,000, while $25,000 will go to the Innovator Prize winner:

  • Groundbreaking Prize: 
    • Team: GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc and Littoral Power Systems, Terra-Modular Project
    • Concept: Prefabrication of a modular hydropower foundation for a wide range of soils and substructures.

 

  • Innovator Prize:
    • Team: Team Chemventive, WaterJet Drill with a Deep Array of Anchor Cables Concept
    • Concept: Deep array of high-tension cables drilled through solid rock, using a water-jet drilling robot, to secure a steel dam in tension.

Read the official announcement.


Time is running out. Submit your concepts now!

Jan. 31, 2021, 4 a.m. PST by Tessa Greco

Groundbreaking Hydro Innovators, 

TODAY IS THE LAST DAY to enter your idea to encourage the development of new, small hydropower and cut the costs, timelines, and risks associated with foundation development.

Be sure to prepare all submission content and hit the submit button before 5pm EDT TODAY, Sunday, January 31, 2021. Don't leave your piece of $300,000 on the table!

If you have any questions, reach out to us on the forum, or send us an email at Groundbreaking.Hydro@nrel.gov.

-The Groundbreaking Hydro Prize Team


3 days remaining. Finalize your concepts!

Jan. 29, 2021, 9:45 a.m. PST by Tessa Greco

Groundbreaking Hydro Innovators, 

There are only 3 days remaining to enter your idea to encourage the development of new, small hydropower and cut the costs, timelines, and risks associated with foundation development.

Be sure to prepare all submission content and hit the submit button before 5pm EDT, Sunday, January 31, 2021. Don't leave your piece of $300,000 on the table!

If you have any questions, reach out to us on the forum, or send us an email at Groundbreaking.Hydro@nrel.gov.

-The Groundbreaking Hydro Prize Team


Last Chance to Enter and Win a Piece of the $300,000 Prize Pool!

Jan. 25, 2021, 3:58 a.m. PST by Tessa Greco

Groundbreaking Hydro Innovators, 

With the deadline coming up on January 31, you still have time to enter your idea to encourage the development of new, small hydropower and cut the costs, timelines, and risks associated with foundation development while you're at it.

Be sure to prepare all submission content and hit the submit button before 5pm EDT on Sunday, January 31, 2021. Don't leave your piece of $300,000 on the table!

If you have any questions, reach out to us on the forum, or send us an email at Groundbreaking.Hydro@nrel.gov.

-The Groundbreaking Hydro Prize Team


Applicant Webinar Recording: Now Available

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


Forum 19
Teams 375
Entries
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FAQ

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.