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.