American-Made Challenges

Groundbreaking Hydro Prize

Help support the foundations that enable tomorrow’s hydropower development!


The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) launched the Groundbreaking Hydro Prize to encourage the development of new ideas to cut the costs, timelines, and risks associated with hydropower development. This competition challenged innovators to come up with new solutions to support hydropower project development by starting at square one—the foundation.


In April 2021, two teams were selected as winners to share a cash pool of $75,000.


graphic image of a hydropower dam with workers standing on it holding blueprints, in front of a backdrop with kayakers on a reservoir and elk in a meadow surrounded by trees.

Like roots to a tree, geotechnical foundations provide structural support to a hydropower facility, and must be developed to ensure stability, safety, and performance for decades. While foundations are central to dam safety, challenges in their design and construction can lead to major project delays and cost overruns, potentially jeopardizing a project’s success.


Through the Groundbreaking Hydro Prize, WPTO solicited solutions to address key challenges faced in one or more of the three foundation development phases:

  • Geotechnical Site Assessment: Activities performed to obtain information needed to design and construct a hydropower foundation system
  • Foundation Design: Process of using information from the site assessment to perform analyses and develop a cost-effective foundation system that meets the project design criteria
  • Foundation Construction: Activities performed by the contractor, from mobilization through project commissioning, to fully develop the foundation system


Targeting the most promising opportunities for future hydropower growth, the prize sought solutions based on:

  • Low head (less than 30 feet)
  • New stream-reach development (NSD): Sites defined as stream segments without hydroelectric facilities or other hydraulic structures
  • Applicability to soil foundations.

Please note that superstructures, including dams, were excluded from the prize scope.


Goals of the Prize


Groundbreaking Hydro was designed to:

  • Reduce construction costs
  • Shorten overall installation times
  • Minimize ground excavation
  • Avoid disturbances in river connectivity during installation, operation, and maintenance (e.g., not use cofferdams when possible)
  • Leverage advanced materials and techniques
  • Prevent foundation treatment failures


Innovators were encouraged to derive their solutions from within the hydropower industry or leverage lessons learned from a diverse set of fields, from maritime construction to advanced manufacturing, offshore wind, transportation, residential and commercial building industries, and beyond to develop transformative methods or technologies that can be applied to hydropower projects.

Congratulations to Our Winners!


Two teams, were chosen as winners of the Groundbreaking Hydro Prize and will share a cash prize pool of $75,000.


prize entry title team video
Groundbreaking Prize Terra-Modulor GZA GeoEnvironmental Inc and Littoral Power Systems
Innovator Prize WaterJet Drill with a Deep Array of Anchor Cables Concept Team Chemventive

Even more Groundbreaking Hydro Innovation


While these solutions weren’t chosen, we applaud the vision that so many teams put forth during the prize. Learn more about these teams and their ideas below.



Important Dates


Final Dates are forthcoming and subject to change.
  • Prize opens: September 25, 2020
  • Prize closes: January 31, 2021
  • Winners Announcement: April 2021

Sign up for updates on our HeroX challenge page.


Innovators, visionaries, or enthusiasts from across a variety of industries are encouraged to join the Groundbreaking Hydro Prize community and find like-minded collaborators. Help us build a better base from which tomorrow’s hydropower can thrive. Contact groundbreaking.hydro@nrel.gov with your industry feedback, questions and ideas!


Solutions that help shape the future

Image of a contruction crew reviewing plans while overlooking a excavated job site, in progress to becoming a foundation for a hydro project.

Are you a thinker, entrepreneur, or potential partner? Anyone with an innovative idea can participate in the American-Made Challenges.