Competitions Provide Springboard for College Students To Make Waves in Water Power

Applications Now Open for U.S. Department of Energy’s 2025 Hydropower and Marine Energy Collegiate Competitions

April 4, 2024 | By Tiffany Plate | Contact media relations

Three students look at and discuss research poster

Contestants shared their ideas with judges and peers at the final Marine Energy Collegiate Competition and Hydropower Collegiate Competition events during the National Hydropower Association’s Water Power Week in May 2023. Photo by Taylor Mankle, NREL

College students are invited to take a deep dive into the marine energy and hydropower industries through two exciting annual competitions—now accepting applications! These competitions provide students with resume-boosting experience, a closer look at these high-potential water power fields, industry connections, and a chance to win cash prizes.

The third annual Hydropower Collegiate Competition (HCC) and sixth annual Marine Energy Collegiate Competition (MECC), both funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office, are open for applications now through May 6.

Hydropower and marine energy are versatile, reliable sources of renewable energy that will play key roles in meeting the country’s decarbonization goals. But there are still obstacles that must be overcome to ensure they can meet that need.

The competitions, administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), invite students to develop solutions for complex water power challenges while offering them access to real-world experience and professional connections that can give them a head start in a career in clean energy. 

“We designed these competitions as a way for students to challenge themselves, grow their professional skills, and take a closer look at all the ways water power can play a pivotal role in our clean energy future,” said Elise DeGeorge, NREL senior project leader. “We sincerely hope that the students participating will be able to see themselves in a career in hydropower or marine energy.”

Students points to screen while other students stand at podium and present at conference

During Water Power Week in May 2023, competitors presented their unique ideas to judges. Photo by Taylor Mankle, NREL

To give contestants even deeper connections in the fields of hydropower and marine energy, each competing team will be paired with an industry mentor in the 2025 competitions. The goal of this new program component is to connect students with industry experts who can provide them with real-world experience, technical insight, and other important support.

Diving into the Competitions

Both HCC and MECC are open to undergraduate and graduate students from postsecondary institutions, including colleges, universities, community colleges, and trade schools. Students from non-U.S. institutions are welcome to apply but must partner with students from a U.S.-accredited institution, and only teams led by U.S. institutions are eligible to receive funding from the Water Power Technologies Office. 

To apply, teams must submit a short description of their team, their educational goals, and how they will ensure diversity within their team (among other details; see the official HCC rules and MECC rules for complete submission requirements). Note that the teams need not be complete to apply, nor are they required to conduct initial research or engineering. Interested teams can apply through the HCC and MECC websites. Applications for both competitions are due May 6, 2024. 

Submissions will be reviewed by a panel of experts, and teams that qualify for the competition will be notified by the end of May 2024. The competition will begin the following fall semester.

Hydropower Collegiate Competition

During the 2025 HCC, which is administered by NREL in partnership with the Hydropower Foundation, teams will be challenged to develop solutions to convert nonpowered dams to hydroelectric dams that also include closed-loop pumped storage hydropower systems. Teams will be required to complete three challenges: the Siting Challenge, the Design Challenge, and the Community Connections Challenge. Teams that enter all three challenges and complete all required stages will be eligible for up to $15,000 each in cash awards and will compete for part of the $25,000 grand prize cash pool.

Teams may also choose to participate in two other optional challenges: the Build and Test Challenge, through which they will be eligible for an additional $5,000 cash prize, and the Cyber in Hydro Challenge, wherein they will be eligible for an additional $2,000 prize.

"We are excited to learn more about the broader field of water resources as well as the nuances of hydropower by building connections with professionals in the industry." –Team Pioneering Potential (University of Wisconsin–Platteville), 2024 HCC competitor

Marine Energy Collegiate Competition

The 2025 MECC asks multidisciplinary teams to develop solutions for marine energy to help power the blue economy.

Teams will compete in four challenges: the Business Plan Challenge, the Technical Design Challenge, the Build and Test Challenge, and the Community Connections Challenge.

Competing teams that submit all required MECC challenge materials will be eligible for up to $20,000 in total cash awards and will compete for part of the $20,000 grand prize cash pool at the final event in spring 2025.

"There is much technical, business, creative, and professional conversation knowledge to be gained over the course of this competition. We feel we are getting valuable and practical professional experience as undergrads—while contributing to such an important industry." –Team SENSE (Michigan Tech University), MECC 2024 competitors

Students and faculty interested in participating in the 2025 competitions are encouraged to view the competition overview presentations to learn more about submission requirements, important dates, and eligibility:

Stay up to date on other exciting research by subscribing to NREL's newest water power science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) newsletter, The SPLASH. 

Learn more about STEM careers and workforce development opportunities on the Hydropower STEM Portal and Marine Energy STEM Portal.

Tags: Water,Marine Energy,Hydropower