Tapping Hydropower’s Potential: New Hydropower Prize Challenges Innovators To Improve Grid Reliability and Resiliency

April 6, 2021 | By Brittany Enos | Contact media relations

A cartoon of a city and farms powered by hydropower with the American-Made Challenges logo and prize name.

The new H2Os Prize challenges innovators to develop cutting-edge solutions that can help advance hydropower’s contribution to the grid. Graphic by NREL

As one of the most reliable and well-established renewable energy resources, hydropower has the potential to play a pivotal role in the nation’s power grid. Hydropower already provides 37% of total U.S. renewable electricity generation, but between the mix of variable energy resources powering the nation and an uptick in extreme weather events, grid reliability has become a central focus of the clean energy transition.

Today, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE's) Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) launched the Hydropower Operations Optimization (H2Os) Prize, in partnership with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), to support a reliable, resilient grid. Now open for submissions, the new prize will offer a combined cash prize pool of up to $75,000 to encourage the development of cutting-edge solutions that can help advance hydropower’s contributions as the United States works to decarbonize the power grid by 2035.

“H2Os Prize participants can help the nation’s energy infrastructure become more flexible, sustainable, and modernized by leveraging all of hydropower’s benefits,” said Clayton Barrows, NREL’s principal investigator for the H2Os Prize. “With the right tools and methods, hydropower can significantly improve the grid’s reliability, resiliency, and overall performance.”

The H2Os Prize challenges innovators to employ modeling, data analytics, and machine learning to create new ways for hydropower systems to coordinate with existing grid scheduling practices and meet water management needs, such as water supply, environmental flow requirements, and flood management.

The new competition supports WPTO’s Hydropower and Water Innovation for a Resilient Energy System (HydroWIRES) Initiative by focusing on hydropower’s complementary role as an integrator of variable renewables, like wind and solar. When the wind slows and the sun sets, dams and reservoirs can kick in to add power quickly and cut back again when breezes pick up and the sun rises.

Through the competition, WPTO seeks solutions to address key hydropower technology development goals:

  • Hydropower Management Performance: Hydropower scheduling solutions that respect the water system’s physical and operational constraints
  • Hydropower Generation Benefits: Economic and environmental benefits resulting from hydropower generation based on feasible hydropower output and electricity market energy prices.
  • Novel, Scalable, and Broadly Applicable: Unique and innovative flexible solutions that apply to a variety of facilities within a range of modeling and institutional workflows.

The prize will run in three distinct phases of increasing complexity, all open to new and returning competitors. The Phase 1 submission window will close on May 20, 2022. The H2Os Prize encourages diverse, multidisciplinary teams and welcomes applications from those familiar with hydropower, machine learning, data science, and/or optimization. Help solve near-term challenges in the clean energy transition by improving the performance of hydropower system operations!

The H2Os Prize is funded by WPTO and administered by NREL in partnership with RTI International. Learn more about participating in the prize and contact WPTOPrizes@ee.doe.gov for more information.