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Water Power Market Acceleration

NREL's market acceleration capabilities foster and inspire the next generation of water power professionals.

Marine energy and hydropower technologies will play a robust role in our nation's evolving power system. To be successful, the water power industry needs new talent to spur innovation and support industry needs.

Students inspect a model of a floating wind turbine.

Challenges and Prizes

Challenges and prizes foster idea development while attracting the next generation of the water power workforce. Some examples of water power-related challenges and prizes facilitated by NREL are listed below.

Marine Energy Collegiate Competition: Powering the Blue Economy

Logo for Powering the Blue Economy - Marine Energy Collegiate Competition, U.S. Department of Energy

NREL has launched the Marine Energy Collegiate Competition: Powering the Blue Economy to provide hands-on experience to students preparing for a career in renewable energy and will hold an introductory webinar on Aug. 29, 2019 at 12 p.m. ET. The competition focuses on advancing next-generation marine energy technologies that hold promise for the blue economy, an emerging research area with the potential to provide reliable power from the ocean, reduce costs, innovate sustainably, and help develop the next generation of the water power workforce.

The Marine Energy Collegiate Competition challenges diverse teams of undergraduate and graduate students from multiple disciplines to get real-world experience and find innovative marine energy solutions that could serve as the future of the blue economy.  For more information on the competition, rules, and application, see the U.S. Department of Energy Marine Energy Collegiate Competition web page.

You can also email the Water Competition team with any questions.

Furthering Advancements to Shorten Time Commissioning for Pumped Storage Hydropower Prize

The Furthering Advancements to Shorten Time (FAST) Commissioning for Pumped Storage Hydropower Prize aims to reduce the time, cost, and risk required to commission pumped storage hydropower projects. This is the first prize of its kind, and it is structured to support anyone with a great idea and the motivation to develop it into a full business concept.

Pumped storage is by far the largest source of energy storage on the grid, and it will play a key role in supporting increased integration of variable generation resources. But the large capital investments and long lead times required to get pumped storage hydropower projects commissioned serve as deterrents to would-be developers and utilities. The goal of this prize is to catalyze new solutions, designs, and strategies to accelerate pumped storage hydropower development. Concepts could include innovative ideas, new layouts, creative construction management, improved construction equipment, application of advanced manufacturing, or standardization of equipment.

Waves to Water

The Waves to Water Prize is a four-stage, $2.5-million contest to accelerate technology innovation in wave energy-powered desalination systems. These technologies hold the potential to deliver clean water to communities for disaster relief purposes and to remote communities throughout the globe. Over almost two years, the prize will provide innovators a pathway from initial concept, to technical design, to prototype, to field testing systems that provide clean, abundant drinking water using only waves as a power source.

Workforce Development

The marine energy and hydropower industries need to attract the best and most-qualified undergraduates to creatively expand opportunities and value. Doctorate and post-doctorate-level researchers will be needed to develop further technology innovations, and environmental scientists will be necessary to expand development. To fill existing and new operational and maintenance workforce requirements, the marine energy and hydropower industries must also attract highly skilled technical workers, often in rural parts of the country.

NREL has a long track record of addressing workforce development needs across the renewable energy spectrum. We have implemented successful workforce-focused efforts such as the Collegiate Wind Competition and the Wind for Schools initiative, created tools to assess long-term workforce needs such as the Jobs and Economic Impact Models, and provided analysis of workforce needs for wind and hydropower technologies.

We also leverage our experience engaging with stakeholder communities to understand barriers to technology adoption to identify issues and drivers, provide feedback to the R&D community, clarify misperceptions, and facilitate market adoption. This work includes efforts such as the Regulatory and Permitting Information Desktop Toolkit for Hydropower development, the Hydropower Workforce Development Report, and a marine energy cable exclusion assessment to determine potential impacts on marine development from undersea telecommunications cables.

STEM Education

Although hydropower is a mainstay of the U.S. power sector, the lack of new hydropower development has limited the number of education programs in this sector at all levels. Efforts to address this gap include more programs and improved program accessibility (across the university through postgraduate levels) and an increased awareness of marine and hydropower as a renewable energy career (via secondary school, vocational and apprenticeship programs, and undergraduate curricula). A lack of public knowledge of these industries and their workforce needs also limits their ability to attract experienced workers from other sectors. To successfully compete with high-tech, aerospace, and other energy industries for top entrants to the workforce, the marine and hydropower industry must attract student attention, provide hands-on experience with technology, and create relationships for mentoring to open doors to water power careers.

This outcome will be achieved by developing materials to support science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-related educational opportunities across the education spectrum. Students introduced to waterpower who choose to further their education and eventually enter the workforce will help propel these industries further, leading innovation and further expansion. Those introduced to water power but who choose not to follow a workforce path into the industry will have a better understanding of these technologies, the potential for water power, and its impacts and benefits. 


Elise DeGeorge

Group Manager III – Mechanical Engineering |