American-Made Challenges


Waves to Water

Accelerate the development of wave-powered desalination systems to provide drinking water in disaster relief and coastal locations.
Submission Deadline
$3.3 million in total prizes

Challenge Overview


The U.S. Department of Energy Water Power Technologies Office challenges innovators to submit your ideas to develop wave powered desalination systems for the Waves to Water Prize. The Waves to Water Prize is a 5-Stage, $3.3M contest to accelerate the development of small, modular, wave-powered desalination systems capable of providing potable drinking water in disaster relief scenarios and remote coastal locations.

The 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.




The prize has five stages, aimed to support concepts through demonstration, with the final stage culminating in an open water testing competition at Jennette’s Pier, where the systems will produce clean water using the power of waves. 




The five stages of this prize will distribute a total of $3.3 million, and will provide access to testing and demonstrating solutions out in the ocean in the final DRINK Stage.



The purpose of this prize is to incentivize the creation of wave powered desalination systems that meet the following goals:

  • Flexibility in Varied Wave Conditions: Competitors must develop systems that can survive harsh wave conditions and operate under different wave conditions and different sites without major tuning to ensure operation at a wide variety of locations. All solutions that make it to the DRINK Stage will be evaluated at an open-water test site with an anticipated average- to low-energetic wave resources.
  • Easily Deployed: Systems must be able to be deployed in less than 48 hours, addressing the ability to deploy quickly and easily in a disaster response scenario where there is large uncertainty around site conditions.
  • Ship in a Standard Container: Technologies must fit into a predefined container – approximately 45 x 48 x 42 inches – to standardize the shipping constraints that face many disaster response and recovery scenarios.
  • Deliver Minimum Water Quality: The maximum total dissolved solids (TDS) for this competition is 1,000 mg/L. At the DRINK Stage, competitors will be scored higher if this threshold is exceeded and the water quality is closer to a target goal range of 300 - 600 TDS mg/L.
  • Operate without Environmental Degradation: Brine discharge, or other salt concentration issues from the process of desalinating water will need to be managed without creating environmental issues.

This prize is the first to be announced as part of the Department of Energy’s Water Security Grand Challenge. The challenge is focused on advancing transformational technology and innovation to meet the global need for secure and affordable water.


For more information on the prize and the rules, 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 subscribe to updates on the prize or have any questions, you may use the contact feature on the HeroX platform, or .

We’re also looking for ideas on how to best structure this contest to attract ground-breaking solutions that will support the marine energy and desalination industries. If you’re not interested in competing but want to help develop and judge the prize, .

Updates 20

Challenge Updates

Wave Energy Test Facility Access: Application Process Open

Nov. 24, 2020, 9:09 a.m. PST by Jenny Wiegele

Hi Waves to Water Innovators, 

As we approach the ADAPT Stage deadline, we wanted to share an opportunity to potentially help improve and accelerate the viability of your wave energy powered desalination devices in the CREATE Stage. WPTO is sponsoring the Testing Expertise and Access for Marine Energy Research (TEAMER™) program, directed by the Pacific Ocean Energy Trust. This program, currently accepting applications through December 18, supports developers seeking access to the nation’s best wave energy facilities and expertise.

Facility access windows are between April and November of 2021, aligning well with the development of your prototype for the CREATE Stage. Apply today:

Please feel free to reach out with any questions. 

We are looking forward to seeing your submissions come in soon!

- The Waves to Water Prize Team

Updated Rules and Competitor Question Response Documents Now Available

Oct. 9, 2020, 8:37 a.m. PDT by Libby Arnold

Waves to Water Innovators, 

Please be advised that the official Waves to Water Rules Document has been modified to update the anchor specifications with an increased weight and pull limit. Please review these changes, now available in the rules document.

The Waves to Water Prize team has also compiled all the anchoring questions we’ve received to date and added them to this document to summarize the feedback. 

If there are still any outstanding questions on the ADAPT Stage rules, please reach out to us on the forum. 

- The Waves to Water Prize Team

Responses to Outstanding Webinar Questions

Aug. 25, 2020, 7:46 a.m. PDT by Jenny Wiegele

In response to the remaining questions asked on the recent applicant webinar, the Waves to Water Prize team put together this document to summarize the feedback. 

Please review these clarifications on the rules, with input from the U.S. Department of Energy, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the Coastal Studies Institute:

If there are still any outstanding questions on the ADAPT Stage rules, please reach out to us on the forum. 

- The Waves to Water Prize Team

Updated Resource and Webinar Recording Now Available

Aug. 3, 2020, 7:42 a.m. PDT by Jenny Wiegele

Hi Innovators, 

In case you missed the Waves to Water ADAPT Stage applicant webinar, the recording is now available. 

We covered the ADAPT Stage rules, introduced the experts from the Coastal Studies Institute and some of the test site requirements, and answered competitor questions. We've also published an update to the Jennette's Pier Test Site Details resource, including regional observations for waves, currents, tides, and wind conditions. 

As always, reach out to us on the forum with any questions. Good luck!

-The Waves to Water Prize Team

Upcoming ADAPT Stage Webinar

July 9, 2020, 1:17 p.m. PDT by Jenny Wiegele

Hello Innovators,

Tune in on Tuesday, July 21, 2020 at 12pm ET for the next Waves to Water webinar. 

We have a lot of exciting new developments to share: the DESIGN Stage winners have been selected, the ADAPT Stage is underway, and we’ve recently announced the location of the DRINK Stage. Hear directly from the experts at the Coastal Studies Institute who operate Jennette’s Pier in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

You’ll hear insights on the next stage of the prize and the site requirements and conditions at Jennette’s Pier.

Register to participate, and as always, email us at  with questions or concerns.

-The Waves to Water Administration Team 

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