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.
$2.5 million in total prizes

Challenge Overview


The U.S. Department of Energy Water Power Technologies Office invites you to submit your ideas to develop wave powered desalination systems for the Waves to Water Prize. The Waves to Water Prize is a 4-Stage, $2.5M 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 four stages, aimed to support concepts through demonstration, with the final stage culminating in an open water testing competition, where the systems will produce clean water using the power of waves. Innovators can currently apply for the DESIGN stage. 




The four stages of this prize will distribute a total of $2.5 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.

Updates 8

Challenge Updates

Amendment to the DESIGN Stage Rules Document

Jan. 29, 2020, 4:16 p.m. PST by NREL Challenge

Hi Innovators,

We’ve made an important modification to the DESIGN Stage rules document regarding battery storage within the minimum requirements table.

If you are including battery storage within your design, review this change here:

Reach out to us on the forum if you have any questions.

-The Waves to Water Team

Did you miss the DESIGN Stage webinar?

Jan. 2, 2020, 10:56 a.m. PST by NREL Challenge

The recording is now available:

We covered the new requirements for the DESIGN Stage and answered the common questions from competitors. If you still have questions on the new rules document or any of the submission requirements, reach out to us on the forum. Good luck!

-The Waves to Water Team

Waves to Water Design Stage Webinar Invitation

Dec. 12, 2019, 3:29 p.m. PST by NREL Challenge

Hi Innovators, 


Whether or not you were a winner in the CONCEPT Stage, the DESIGN Stage is now open for applicants! 

Join us tomorrow at 12pm MT for our next webinar to explore the updated rules document, expectations for applications, and some best practices.

Register in advance to get your questions answered:


-The Waves to Water Prize Team

Congratulations, and more ways to win

Nov. 14, 2019, 2:54 p.m. PST by NREL Challenge

Congratulations to our 20 winners from the CONCEPT Stage! Check out the great ideas we saw come in during the first stage of the competition.

Whether you were selected or not this time, we’ve also started accepting applications for the DESIGN Stage. The rules document is now live, so read up and don’t miss your shot at a share of $800k for another 20 winners. 

Once you’re familiar with the newest requirements, feel free to connect with us on the forum, or attend the DESIGN Stage webinar on December 13 and ask us any questions you have directly. 

Can’t wait to see what you come up with next. 

-The Waves to Water Prize Team

Rules Modification and Submission Deadline Reminder

Sept. 5, 2019, 5:35 a.m. PDT by NREL Challenge

Hi Innovators! 

We've uploaded a modification to the rules (see the resources tab or link), which revises Section 3.5 How We Determine Winners to classify advisory judges as reviewers, and specified conflict of interest requirements for the final judge. The modification does not impact any submission requirements or judging criteria, however we encourage you to review the changes to familiarize yourself. 

Also a quick reminder on the Sept. 11 submission deadline. The deadline on the 11th is set at 5 P.M. ET please make sure that you've checked your local time to make sure that you do not miss the deadline. No submissions will be accepted after 5 P.M. ET. 

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