Official Information for The Wave Energy Prize

AquaHarmonics placed first in the 18-month design-built-test Wave Energy Prize competition. They and other prize finalists were recognized at the Wave Energy Prize Innovation Showcase at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, in West Bethesda, Maryland. From left: Alison LaBonte, DOE Marine and Hydrokinetic Program Manager; David Friedman, Deputy Assistant Secretary of DOE's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy; Max Ginsburg and Alex Hagmuller of AquaHarmonics; Jim Ahlgrimm, Acting Director of DOE's Water Power Technologies Office; Franklin M. Orr, DOE Under Secretary for Science and Energy. (Photo: Ken Shipp/Department of Energy.)

What Is The Wave Energy Prize?

The Wave Energy Prize was an 18-month public design-build-test competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Water Power Technologies Office Marine and Hydrokinetic Program. The prize was designed to increase the diversity of organizations involved in Wave Energy Converter (WEC) technology development, while motivating and inspiring existing stakeholders. The competition achieved game-changing performance enhancements to WEC devices and established pathways to sweeping cost reductions on a commercial scale.

Ninety-two teams registered for the prize beginning in April 2015. Over the course of the competition, a panel of judges ultimately identified nine finalists and two alternates. With the support of the U.S. Navy, the finalist teams tested their prototype devices at the nation's most advanced wave-making facility, the Naval Surface Warfare Center's Maneuvering and Seakeeping Basin at Carderock, Maryland. In November 2016, the Program announced AquaHarmonics as the winner of the Wave Energy Prize, proving a five-fold improvement in WEC technology.

Wave energy is produced by converting the energy from waves into electricity. With more than 50 percent of the U.S. population living within 50 miles of coastlines, America has the potential to develop a domestic wave energy industry that uses an untapped renewable resource to help achieve the nation's energy goals, while also encouraging domestic manufacturing and job growth.

The wave energy sector is in its early stages of development, and the diversity of technologies makes it difficult to evaluate the most technically and economically viable solutions. The Wave Energy Prize Competition addressed this challenge by comparing a wide range of device types and evaluating them against a threshold requirement for high energy capture. The Prize continues to facilitate rapid technical innovation, and the DOE will publish in November 2017 data from all the finalist teams' test results to further accelerate the advancement of this sector.

The Goal

The Wave Energy Prize's goal was to encourage the development of more efficient WEC devices that double the energy captured from ocean waves, which in turn would reduce the cost of wave energy, making it more competitive with other energy solutions.

The Outcome

The Wave Energy Prize proved to be a significant advancement for wave energy technology. Four teams surpassed that competition's goal of doubling. AquaHarmonics' five-fold technology improvement shows how rapid innovation can be achieved in a public prize challenge.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

Updated: January 2017

1. What is wave energy?
Wave energy is one form of marine renewable energy. Wave energy converts the energy in highly predictable ocean waves into electricity using a range of different technologies. Wave energy conversion (WEC) devices are in the early stages of technological development, and there are currently hundreds of potentially viable technologies in this emerging industry as researchers and developers seek to prove their technologies’ viability.
2. How much potential does wave energy have as a viable alternative energy source in the United States?
With more than 50 percent of the U.S. population living within 50 miles of coastlines, there is vast potential to provide reliable, safe electricity to communities and cities across the United States using wave energy. It is estimated that the technically recoverable wave energy resource is approximately 1,170 terawatt hours (TWh) per year, distributed across Alaska, the West Coast, the East Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. Developing just a small fraction of the available wave energy resource could allow for millions of American homes to be powered with this clean, reliable form of energy. For context, approximately 90,000 homes could be powered by 1 TWh per year. Extracting just 5% of the approximately 1,170 TWh/year of the technical resource potential could result in wave energy powering 5 million American homes.
3. Are there examples of wave energy systems in use in other parts of the world?
The Marine and Hydrokinetic Technology Database on the Open Energy Information (OpenEI) website (openei.org) provides information on wave energy projects, both in the United States and around the world. You can also find information on wave energy systems in other parts of the world in the International Energy Agency’s Ocean Energy Systems annual report. Each year, the Energy Department (DOE) and several other countries contributes to the report which provides an overview of worldwide ocean energy developments.
4. What are the challenges to developing wave energy resources, and how did the Wave Energy Prize help solve some of the problems?
One challenge is that wave energy devices are not yet cost competitive with other means of generating electricity. Thus, DOE sees an important opportunity in reducing the cost of wave energy so it can contribute to the nation’s clean energy supply. The Wave Energy Prize was one way to encourage the development of more efficient WEC devices, which in turn will reduce the cost of wave energy and make it competitive with traditional energy solutions.
5. Why did DOE decide to do a prize challenge focused on wave energy?
Wave energy offers a substantial resource to deliver renewable energy to the United States. The wave energy sector is in its early stages of development, and the diversity of the technologies makes it hard to evaluate the most technically and economically viable solutions. The Department of Energy (DOE) sought to use a prize competition to help dramatically improve the performance of wave energy conversion (WEC) devices, providing a pathway to game-changing reductions in the cost of wave energy. Prize competitions set a high technical bar for participants to be eligible for a prize, facilitating rapid advancements in technical innovations at a relatively low cost to the sponsoring agency. The Wave Energy Prize aims to attract next generation ideas by offering a prize purse and providing an opportunity for testing at the nation’s most advanced wave-making facility, the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock’s Maneuvering and Seakeeping (MASK) Basin in Maryland.
6. What was the prize timeline–how long did it last, when did it kick off, etc.?
Registration for the Wave Energy Prize opened in April 2015. It was an 18-month design-build-test competition. There were numerous milestones that teams reached, including a technical submission, numerical modeling, and small-scale testing, before finalists were identified to participate in testing at the MASK basin beginning in August 2016. Winner were announced in November 2016.
7. What steps were required of Prize participants?
Participants in the Wave Energy Prize designed, built, numerically modeled, and tested prototypes of a WEC device at the 1/50th and 1/20th scales. Prototypes aimed to be at least double the state of the art performance based on energy capture and cost of 2015 WEC devices.
8. Why did the DOE choose to test wave climates typically found off the West Coast of the United States?
For large-scale commercial harnessing of wave power, it is best to have a good wave climate in deep water located close to shore and close to markets with a large demand for power. The West Coast of the United States fits all of these conditions. Furthermore, there exist long-term wave climate data sets for deep water environments off the West Coast, which provide a detailed understanding of average annual wave climates and wave directionality necessary for the rigorous testing program employed in the Wave Energy Prize. While the performance of the WEC devices off the West Coast is of primary importance, results of device performance from the sea states reproduced at the MASK basin may be used to determine device performance in locations with early market opportunities, such as Hawaii and Alaska.
9. Did the rules and criteria for this competition eliminate certain types of devices?
The Wave Energy Prize was designed to focus on deep-water devices. The Wave Energy Prize chose wave conditions found on the West Coast of the continental United States due to the large energy resource in this region. Such locations have long term average annual wave energy flux per meter crest width in the range of 17-39kW/m. Only WEC concepts that are designed for operating in these conditions were considered for entry to the Wave Energy Prize.
Additionally, other types of devices may have been eliminated based upon whether or not the device could be fairly and equitably scaled in comparison to other devices, and constraints of the test facility.
10. The test metric was Average Climate Capture Width per Characteristic Capital Expenditure, or ACE. What is that and why was it used?
The ACE metric was selected by the Wave Energy Prize as a reduced content metric appropriate for comparing low Technology Readiness Level (TRL) WEC concepts when there is insufficient or unreliable data to enable an actual calculation of the levelized cost of energy (LCOE). It has been determined that the total surface area adjusted for material cost tracks most closely to capital cost, which is the most important LCOE driver for WEC devices today, along with annual energy production (AEP). The two components that comprise the ACE ratio are defined as follows:
  • Average Climate Capture Width = This is the numerator of ACE. It is the absorbed power of the device in kilowatts (kW) divided by the wave energy flux per meter crest width in kW/m. Thus, a device with a higher capture width absorbs more of the available incident wave power that can be converted into usable power. Capture widths can be determined through the analysis of experimental data obtained from wave tank testing.
  • Characteristic Capital Expenditure = This is the denominator of ACE. Total Surface Area s(m2) x Representative Structural Thickness (m) x Density of Material(s) (kgm-3) x Cost of Manufactured Material per unit Mass ($kg-1)

11. Why was the goal to double the energy captured from ocean waves?

DOE believed that doubling ACE was an aggressive yet necessary (and achievable!) target to meet for long term LCOE reduction. Because devices developed during the Wave Energy Prize exceeded this goal, they represent a ground-breaking advancement over current devices. If further developed through other opportunities for innovation (in aspects not targeted in the Prize, like operations and maintenance) and learning, and real-world experience, these devices could produce the kind of radical technology leap required to deliver cost-competitive wave power.

Leveraging results from the DOE MHK Reference Model Project, the Wave Energy Prize determined that the value ACE on average for 2015’s state-of-the-art technologies was 1.5 meters per million dollars (m/$M), in typical deep water locations off the West Coast of the United States.

To achieve the ambitious goal established by the DOE and promote the necessary revolutionary advancements in WEC technologies, an ACE threshold value of 3m/$M was established and was used to determine key decisions during the final Technology Gate of the Wave Energy Prize. At the final gate, testing at 1/20th scale, WECs had to achieve this threshold to be eligible to win a monetary prize.

12. What kinds of devices did participants actually submit to win the Prize? What was measured in testing?

Participants designed, built, numerically modeled, and tested 1/50th and 1/20th scale devices in different stages of the Prize. It is important to note that the actual electricity production from the devices were not measured in the Prize. This is because WEC power take off and generator systems cannot be adequately scaled down to the 1/50th and 1/20th scales. Instead, dynamic and kinematic sides of absorbed power—as a proxy for electricity generation—of the WEC devices were measured. The exact measurements of the kinematic and dynamic sides varied based on device type (maybe force and velocity, or pressure and flow, etc.); however, they were measured at each absorption point.

13. How much did the winners of the Wave Energy Prize receive in terms of the cash prize?

Prize purses available to the winners of the Wave Energy Prize were:

  • Grand Prize Winner: Team ranked the highest after testing of the 1/20th scale WEC device model at the Carderock MASK Basin - $1,500,000
  • 2nd Place Finisher: Team ranked second after testing of the 1/20th scale WEC device model at the Carderock MASK Basin - $500,000
  • 3rd Place Finisher: Team ranked third after testing of the 1/20th scale WEC device model at the Carderock MASK Basin - $250,000

Winning teams' 1/20th scale devices had to surpass the ACE threshold of 3m/$M. The judging panel ranked all teams whose devices achieved the threshold and assessed their overall performance using the Hydrodynamic Performance Quality (HPQ), a holistic measure to evaluate the reliability of devices.

14. Did the Wave Energy Prize provide funding for teams to develop their WEC concepts?

The Wave Energy Prize provided seed funding (financial support) to the Finalists (up to $125,000) and Alternates (up to $25,000). This seed funding was provided for costs associated with 1) the build of the 1/20th scale models, 2) the shipment of the 1/20th scale models, and 3) travel for participating in the testing process.

15. In the rules, multiple Technology Gates are mentioned. What is a Technology Gate and what is the purpose?

The Wave Energy Prize was designed as a three (3) phase competition, with four (4) distinct Technology Gates.

The successful progression through the four (4) Technology Gates let the most qualified Teams, with the highest ranking WEC designs, to be identified, tested, and placed for winning prize purses at the completion of the Prize.

The Technology Gates and their purpose are identified below, while the requirements for successful progression through them are defined in the Technical Requirements (Section 6):

  • Technology Gate 1 - Technical Submission; for Determination of Qualified Teams (Prize Phase 1: Design)
  • Technology Gate 2 - Small Scale (1/50th) Model Testing, Numerical Modeling for Determination of Finalists and Alternates (Prize Phase 1: Design)
  • Technology Gate 3 - Verify the level of build progress and test readiness of the identified Finalists and Alternates (Prize Phase 2: Build)
  • Technology Gate 4 - Testing of 1/20th Scale Model at the MASK Basin, Carderock; for Determination of Prize Winners (Prize Phase 3: Test and Evaluation)

16. Why did DOE decide to focus this prize on deep water devices?

Driving down the cost of harnessing wave energy and deploying wave energy technologies at a large commercial scale and requires proximity to close-to-shore markets as well as high wave energy resources. Further, the rigorous testing program of the Wave Energy Prize that targets this cost reduction requires a detailed understanding of average annual wave climates and wave directionality. The West Coast of the United States not only has the right market size and wave energy resource, but the Department of Energy has long-term wave climate data sets for deep water environments off the West Coast necessary for the Prize testing program.

17. What stage of the prize are the teams at now?

The Wave Energy Prize has concluded. View the results.

18. What has DOE observed about the teams and their technologies?

A number of the teams proposed truly innovative technologies and several demonstrated their ability to achieve the ACE threshold and thus exceed the DOE’s stated program goal. The innovations are in geometry and shape, material, energy absorption and conversion capabilities, and, importantly, control systems. The Finalist Teams demonstrated great diversity. The Finalist Teams represented existing wave energy developers, start-ups and universities. The common thread among teams was their willingness to think outside the box and their dedication to the idea of bringing viable WEC technologies to the clean energy mix.

19. How many teams registered for the Prize?

Of the 92 teams that registered for the Wave Energy Prize, 66 submitted the technical submissions required to pass the first technology gate. Of these 66, the Wave Energy Prize judges identified 20 teams to continue in the competition as official Qualified Teams. After the announcement of the Qualified Teams, three teams withdrew from the competition. The Wave Energy Prize judges evaluated the remaining 17 submissions at Technology Gate 2 and identified 9 Finalist Teams and 2 alternates to proceed to the third technology gate. The 9 Finalist Teams proceeded through Technology Gate 3 and tested their 1/20th scale WEC prototypes at the MASK Basin beginning in August 2016. The third-, second-, and first-place winners, as well as all finalists, were recognized during the Wave Energy Prize Innovation Showcase at the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, in West Bethesda, Maryland.

20. Where did the small-scale tank testing occur?

The official Qualified Teams were each assigned a facility by the Wave Energy Prize judges for small-scale testing. The Judges assigned facilities based upon which would be the best fit for each team’s proposed technology. Small-scale devices were tested in wave tanks at Oregon State University, Stevens Institute of Technology, the University of Iowa, the University of Maine, and the University of Michigan.

21. What is Hydrodynamic Performance Quality (HPQ)?

The ACE metric requires knowledge of the power absorbed by the WEC in a West Coast deployment climate and the Characteristic Capital Expenditure needed to build the WEC. By requiring additional sensors to monitor other aspects of the WEC’s performance such as the degree of its motion and processing the data to understand not just a WEC’s average performance in testing but also its responses to infrequent events, much more can be learned about a device’s overall performance. Six hydrodynamic performance-related quantities were determined through data processing for each device tested in the MASK Basin:

  • one that measures the area swept by the device in its motions;
  • one that examines the maximum loads on the device’s mooring;
  • one that measures the fluctuations in the devices absorbed power;
  • one that counts impact events;
  • one that quantifies the device’s absorbed power in realistic seas; and,
  • one that examines the amount of energy used by the device for controls.

Each of these quantities was allocated to a factor and the HPQ of a device was established by multiplying the ACE metric with the factors allocated to each quantity. It is on the basis of HPQ that the teams were ranked in the final round of testing. For more details on HPQ and how it is calculated, please see the Prize Rules.

22. What are Characteristic Capital Expenditure (CCE) and Representative Structural Thickness (RST)?

The ACE metric is a proxy for Levelized Cost of Energy (LCOE), the denominator of which—CCE— corresponds to a cost metric of the WEC. It is calculated as shown below:

Characteristic Capital Expenditure (CCE) = Total Surface Area (m2) x Representative Structural Thickness (m) x Density of Material(s) (kg/m3) x Cost of Manufactured Material per unit Mass ($/kg) for all applicable materials.

RST is the thickness of relevant load-bearing materials used to determine the total structural mass when multiplied by the surface area of each material. The RST can be visualized as a single uniform thickness obtained by melting down all of the structural components of a WEC then “casting” the shape of the WEC with a constant wall thickness.

Frequently Asked Questions

Important Dates

As registration approaches, some of you may be seeking more information about the timeline of the Wave Energy Prize. Below are important milestones for participating teams. It’s important to note that these are tentative and may be adjusted; we will publish a finalized timetable in the Wave Energy Prize Rules when they are posted in April. Tentatively, key dates for potential teams to consider are:

April 2015 Registration for the Wave Energy Prize opens online. The Wave Energy Prize Rules and the Wave Energy Prize Terms and Conditions will also be posted on the website at this time. Once we approve your registration, we will send you the Technical Submission package and instructions to access the section of the website that is reserved for participants.
June 15, 2015 Wave Energy Prize Registration closes at 5 p.m. ET; announcement of official Registered Teams to follow. REGISTRATION EXTENDED TO 5 P.M. EDT ON TUESDAY, JUNE 30, 2015!
July 15, 2015 Design submission deadline.
July 16—August 13, 2015
August 14, 2015 Announcement of Qualified Teams.
August 14, 2015—January 29, 2016 Each Qualified Team develops a small-scale model, demonstrating proof-of-concept via 1/50th scaled prototype testing, validated WEC performance, numerical simulations, and/or any design stage wave tank testing results. Qualified Teams then submit their designs for review.
January 29, 2016 Results of small-scale testing and associated documentation/results due to Wave Energy Prize administration.
March 1, 2016 Up to 10 Finalists and Alternates announced; seed funding distribution begins to Finalists.

March 1—July, 2016 Finalists and Alternates procure and construct 1/20th scaled prototype WEC devices for tank testing.
June 15, 2016 Finalists and Alternates submit build progress and test readiness reports.
July 1, 2016 Announcement of Finalists who will proceed to testing at the Carderock MASK basin facility in Maryland.

August 1—October 10, 2016 Finalists’ 1/20th scaled prototypes are test and evaluated at the Carderock MASK basin facility.

November 2016 Awards ceremony with announcement of winning team(s).



Wave Energy Prize Rules (R3) (PDF, 2.1 MB, 59 pages)

The Wave Energy Prize Rules document is an action issued by the Department of Energy. Though it is not intended or expected, should any discrepancy occur between the document posted here and the document published in the Federal Register, the Federal Register publication controls. This document is being made available through the Internet solely as a means to facilitate the public’s access to this document.

Wave Energy Prize Terms and Conditions (PDF, 185 KB, 6 pages)

Wave Energy Prize Federal Register Notice (PDF, 196 KB, 2 pages)

EERE. Wave Energy Prize. U.S. Department of Energy. Jul, 2018, 13:21 EST. Available at: https://waveenergyprize.org/. Accessed Jul, 2018.

EERE. "Wave Energy Prize." waveenergyprize.org. U.S. Department of Energy, July. 2018. Web. July. 2018.

EERE. "Wave Energy Prize," waveenergyprize.org, U.S. Department of Energy, https://waveenergyprize.org/ (accessed Jul, 2018).

EERE. Wave Energy Prize [Internet]. waveenergyprize.org; 2018 July, 13:21 EST [cited 2018 July]. Available from: https://waveenergyprize.org/

@ONLINE{U.S. Department of Energy:2018:Online, author = {EERE}, title = {Wave Energy Prize [email protected]}}, year = {2018}, url = {https://waveenergyprize.org/}, note = [Online; accessed Jul-2018] }