American-Made Challenges

Waves to Water

Waves to Water

Accelerate the development of wave-powered desalination systems to provide drinking water in disaster relief and coastal locations.
$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.

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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.

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. So long as 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.   

DOE employees, employees of sponsoring organizations, members of their immediate families (spouses, children, siblings, parents), and persons living in the same household as such persons, whether or not related, 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 Waves to Water Prize is led 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.

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.

You may also contact us directly at .

Any marine energy technology is eligible to compete. However, at the final stage of the prize, competitors will be tested at a site where it is anticipated that tidal or current resources will be limited, and should be essentially considered as insignificant. The anticipated site conditions can be found in the Rules Document Appendix 2: “Site Testing Conditions - All solutions competing in the DRINK Stage will be evaluated at an open-water test site with the following anticipated site characteristics:

●       Significant wave height range[1] between 0.5m - 2.0m;

●       Average wave period range between 5-15 seconds;

●       Water depth of 2-5m; and

●       Deployed less than 1 km from shore.

This is an estimated range of conditions expected for the testing site. It is anticipated that the site will be representative of average to low-energetic wave resources, and at the bottom end of the ranges provided. Once a final test site has been selected, full technical details will be provided.”

In the final grand prize, all water produced by systems must meet the Minimum Water Quality level in order to be eligible for any prizes, as stated in the Rules Document Section 1.1 Technology Development Goals. But per the Rules document Appendix 2, “[u]ltimately the prize seeks to produce drinking water at the final DRINK Stage of the competition that meets both EPA’s Secondary Standards and mandatory limits of the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.” It is anticipated that competitors will receive higher scores for meeting these standards. 

The desalinated water will be required to be delivered to shore at the end of the demonstration period during the Drink phase of the contest. We anticipate that the administration team will provide a standard water container for each team. More guidance on water delivery will be provided closer to the competition date.

We have intentionally put in competing metrics so that teams must weigh design challenges. However, once all thresholds have been met, it is anticipated that water production will be most heavily weighted. Additional information on metrics will be provided at a later date.

All supplies will need to fit into the standard container, including the wave energy device. The Prize Administration team does anticipate having some standard equipment and tools for installation and maintenance at the final competition stage. More information on equipment that will be available onsite will be published at a later date.