NREL Announces Winners of the Groundbreaking Hydro Prize

Two Winners To Share $75,000 Prize Pool

April 8, 2021 | Contact media relations

Two winning teams claimed top honors in the Groundbreaking Hydro Prize with their creative concepts to help support hydropower’s continued trajectory of growth.

Through this prize, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO), in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), incentivized innovators to explore opportunities to cut the cost and timetables associated with small hydropower project development by starting at square one—the foundation.

Two winning concepts were selected and will share a cash prize pool of $75,000.

Digging in Deep

Hydropower is the original renewable energy source and, although the technology is more than 100 years old, it continues to offer great promise. Hydropower foundations, however—though essential to dam safety—can be a design and construction challenge leading to major project delays and cost overruns, jeopardizing a project’s success.

Part of the American-Made Challenges contest series, the prize solicited solutions to address key challenges faced in one or more of the three hydropower foundation development phases: geotechnical site assessment, foundation design, or foundation construction.

Specifically requesting concepts that were customized for low head, new stream-reach development and applicable to soil foundations, competitors were given roughly four months to come up with their approaches.

“This was a really tough challenge to tackle, and we received some interesting concepts for rethinking our approach to small hydropower development,” said Tessa Greco, Water Prize program manager at NREL. “The ingenuity presented in response to an extremely challenging problem was impressive, though we recognize that significant opportunities still remain for pushing this topic area forward.”

Rising to the Top

The prize was open to a multidisciplinary field of applicants, from those in hydropower and dam construction and safety, to advanced manufacturing and beyond.

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 for the Terra-Modular Project
    • Concept: Prefabrication of a modular hydropower foundation for a wide range of soils and substructures.
  • Innovator Prize:
    • Team: Team Chemventive for the 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.

“We received many thoughtful submissions from this group of competitors,” said Katie Jackson, hydropower engineer at WPTO. “However, substantial opportunities and challenges in foundation development remain.”

To help ensure that the challenge is grounded in the needs of those designing and constructing this essential element of hydropower systems, WPTO is seeking industry feedback and engagement in the prize. Please contact with your questions and ideas!

Help us build a better base from which tomorrow’s hydropower can thrive. Learn more about the Groundbreaking Hydro Prize and NREL’s innovative water power research.

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for the Energy Department by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.