AquaHarmonics Wins the Energy Department’s Wave Energy Prize

CalWave Power Technologies and Waveswing America Named Runners-Up in $2.25 Million Prize Challenge

WASHINGTON (Nov. 16, 2016) – Today the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy announced AquaHarmonics as the winner of the Wave Energy Prize – which comes with a $1.5 million grand prize. CalWave Power Technologies and Waveswing America were awarded second and third place, respectively, with $500,000 and $250,000 in cash prizes. With more than 50 percent of the U.S. population living within 50 miles of coastlines, there is vast potential to provide clean, renewable electricity to communities and cities across the United States using wave energy.

An 18-month design-build-test competition, the Wave Energy Prize focuses on catalyzing the development of game-changing wave energy converters that will ultimately reduce the cost of wave energy. Wave energy technology could one day provide clean, cost-competitive, reliable energy for homeowners, communities, businesses, and government in geographically suited parts of the United States.

“The Wave Energy Prize marks a significant advance for marine energy,” said Lynn Orr, DOE’s Under Secretary for Science and Energy. “This competition set a difficult threshold of doubling the energy captured from ocean waves, and four teams surpassed that goal. AquaHarmonics’ technology leap incentivized by the Energy Department demonstrates how rapid innovation can be achieved in a public prize challenge.”

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, which were announced in March. These teams received up to $125,000 in seed funding to build scaled prototypes of their wave energy converter devices. 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.

Wave energy is produced by converting the energy from waves into electricity. It has the potential to be 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 technologies makes it difficult to evaluate the most technically and economically viable solutions. The Wave Energy Prize Competition has addressed this challenge by comparing a wide range of device types and evaluating them against a threshold requirement for high energy capture. The Prize has already facilitated rapid technical innovation, and in the next year, the Energy Department will publish data from all the finalist teams’ test results to further accelerate advancement of this sector.

“It’s been a project we’ve been working on since even before the Wave Energy Prize was announced,” said Max Ginsburg from AquaHarmonics. “As we progressed towards the finals, it just got more and more exciting.”

Go to for information on the Water Power Technologies Office funding opportunities that sponsor the development of innovative technologies that generate renewable, environmentally friendly, and cost-competitive electricity from water resources. To see the full results of the competition or for more information about the Wave Energy Prize, go to

Testing Update


Ever since registering more than a year ago for the Wave Energy Prize, our teams have eagerly anticipated the opportunity to test their 1/20th-scale WEC prototypes in the Navy’s Maneuvering and Seakeeping (MASK) Basin, at Carderock, Md. In a building with a footprint of more than five acres, what developer wouldn’t be giddy with excitement to test a new technology in the nation’s premier wave-making facility containing more than 12 million gallons of fresh water?

The beginning of August marked the beginning of the final round testing, and some of our Finalist Teams have already completed their 1/20th scale model tests in the MASK Basin. Others are still awaiting their turn. M3 Wave was first in the tank, followed by Waveswing America, Harvest Wave Energy (Team FLAPPER), AquaHarmonics, CalWave Power Technologies, Oscilla Power and Sea PotentialRTI Wave Power is testing its prototype this week, and SEWEC is onsite building its device.

“Watching our Finalist Teams’ WEC concepts come to life at the MASK Basin has been a thrill,” said Alison LaBonte, Marine and Hydrokinetic Technology Program Manager in DOE’s Water Power Technologies Office. “We’re looking forward to the Judges’ analyses of the nine weeks of testing and learning how many and which technologies surpassed our goal of doubling the energy capture efficiency of wave energy converters.”

U.S. Department of Energy’s Wave Energy Prize Announces Finalist Teams

Meet the Wave Energy Prize Finalist Teams

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced Tuesday that nine teams have been named finalists in the Wave Energy Prize, a 20-month design-build-test competition, and will proceed to the next phase of the competition.

The nine finalists and two alternates, identified from the 17 remaining official qualified teams, will continue their quest to double the energy captured from ocean waves and win a prize purse totaling more than $2 million. Each of the finalists and alternates will now receive seed funding from DOE to develop 1/20th scale models of their wave energy converter (WEC). These models will be tested at the nation’s most advanced wave-making facility, the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Maneuvering and Seakeeping (MASK) Basin at Carderock, Md., beginning in the summer of 2016.

Official finalist teams are:

Alternate teams are:

“The qualified teams’ efforts resulted in some very promising technologies for the judges to evaluate,” said Wes Scharmen, principal investigator at Ricardo, Inc. and chief judge of the Wave Energy Prize. “Based on our preliminary evaluation, the data indicates that many of the teams identified as finalists have the potential to achieve the ACE threshold, and thus the potential to exceed DOE’s program goal. We’re looking forward to further verifying their designs performance at 1/20th scale in the MASK Basin at Carderock this summer.”

ACE—a benefit-to-cost ratio—was selected by the Wave Energy Prize as a metric appropriate for comparing low Technology Readiness Level WEC concepts when there is not enough data to calculate the levelized cost of energy —itself a cost-to-benefit ratio—from a device. ACE is determined by dividing, in essence, the wave energy extraction efficiency of a WEC by its structural cost. Finalists were determined based on their potential to achieve the doubling of the current state-of-the-art ACE value of 1.5 meters per million dollars (m/$M) to 3 m/$M during 1/20th scale tank testing at the MASK Basin, making them eligible to win the grand prize.

A panel of expert judges evaluated each qualified team based on their revised technical submissions, numerical modeling results, Model Design and Construction Plans, and the results of small-scale tank testing of their 1/50th scale models, and determined aggregate scores to identify the finalist pool.

The Wave Energy Prize is encouraging the development of game-changing WECs that will reduce the cost of wave energy, making it more competitive with traditional energy solutions.

Congratulations to the finalist teams, and thanks to all who have participated in theWave Energy Prize to date!

Why is the development of wave energy converters so challenging? Part 2: Extracting energy from waves

Development of wave energy converters

So, how exactly can we exploit this resource?

The Wave Energy Prize received technical submissions detailing 66 unique WEC concepts.

A very small number of these couldn’t work, but the overwhelming majority were concepts that could exploit, to differing degrees, the fluid motions of water particle motions. While some of these concepts were variations on ideas seen before, that is still a very large number of different ideas. At present, the means of exploiting wave power seems only constrained by the imagination of the inventors.

And that is a challenge; one that the Wave Energy Prize is, in part, endeavoring to address.

If one thinks of the development of modern wind turbines 30 to 40 years ago, there was also a plethora of competing wind turbine designs, each hoping to become commercially competitive.

Over time, as the science, engineering and economic understanding has matured, it became possible to identify optimum approaches to the exploitation of the, essentially, linear wind flow into electricity. All turbines now are generally three-blade, horizontal-axis turbines, with a gear box and generator. More modern designs are now using permanent magnet generators, and maybe even novel hydraulic systems. Even then, the principal power absorption mechanism was essentially the same for all wind turbines – linear fluid flow into horizontal mechanical rotation (we do, however, see some small vertical axis turbines in niche applications).

At present, the means of exploiting wave power seems only constrained by the imagination of the inventors.

The same is true of tidal stream turbines, and also aircraft and car designs. Over time, the science and engineering, along with the design tools and test facilities available, lead to a science-backed consensus regarding optimum configurations. Optimum configurations might change as new materials and components become available, but changes are systematically made through an understanding of their impact on a turbine’s techno-economic performance, arising from good knowledge, understanding and information (this can also relate to cars or planes.)

The exploitation of low-speed fluid oscillations created by ocean waves, imparting very high linear or rotational forces/torques, which need to be converted to (generally) high-speed linear or rotational motion in a generator (doing so cheaply and reliably, while being survivable) is just not as well understood within the science community.

Hence the very large number of wave energy conversion concepts we see in the Wave Energy Prize, and throughout the world.

It is possible that there is no single solution that is optimal, or that there are several optimal solutions, dependent on many factors, such as site conditions, water depth, distance to shore, etc.

The exploitation of wave power faces other very significant challenges, perhaps ones that aren’t faced by wind turbines or tidal stream turbines – the most important of these is survival.

Potential wave power sites off the West Coast of the United States have annual average wave energy fluxes in the region of 20-30 kWm-1 of wave crest length. In severe winter storms, the peak power can be multiple times higher than this, perhaps as high as 1MWm-1 (an increase by a factor of 30-50 over the average wave energy flux). This provides significant challenges to the structural design and consequent capital cost, or requires survival strategies, such as diving, submersion, or perhaps even removal to shore. And these typical winter storms are not as strong as the survival conditions to be met for the “100 year wave” or rogue waves, which will be even more demanding.

Wind turbines operate in a relatively narrow range of wind speeds, and simple survival strategies are possible when winds exceed operational limits; they feather their blades to minimize the forces on the turbine. Furthermore, the forces imparted by water with a density of ~1000kgm-3 are so much larger than when the fluid is air. Tidal stream turbines are also frequently not exposed to the severe storm conditions or wave energy potentially encountered by WECs. Besides, the environmental conditions seen are far more predictable and the ranges are not so extreme.

Interestingly, deep-water waves are also intrinsically more survivable than near-shore ones, as near-shore devices could well be exposed to severe breaking waves in harsh storm conditions, which would likely lead to catastrophic failure. In severe storms, big ships head away from the shore and out to deep water for the same reason.

The exploitation of wave power also creates other challenges that are not normally as onerous for wind turbines and tidal stream turbines. These include:

  • This is straightforward for onshore and relatively straightforward for shallow-water offshore wind turbines. Tidal stream is more challenging, due to the high-speed water currents in commercial sites, but still relatively close to shore, and not at very significant water depths. For WECs in deep water, this requires multiple mooring systems, potentially remotely operated vehicles and divers, possibly operating many miles from the shore base for marine operations.
  • This requires access in potentially hostile and dangerous environments, with weather window constraints.
  • Some WEC concepts are intrinsically directional in their approach to exploiting wave power, whereas wind turbines and potentially tidal stream turbines have easy strategies for orienting the system towards optimum flow conditions for energy extraction.
  • Marine debris and biofouling. With many wave energy concepts located at the surface of the sea where the wave energy is greatest, they are potentially more vulnerable to damage caused by marine debris, such as shipping containers, ropes and fishing nets. Biofouling is also far more prevalent at the surface or near the surface, as this is where the biological activity is greatest.
  • Other uses of the sea. WECs potentially have greater impacts on other users of the sea, such as those in shipping, fishing and recreation. Many wave energy concepts have some freedom to move, but tidal or wind turbines are essentially static devices that are constrained by moorings. This uses up a large surface of the sea, and increases the potential for collisions.
  • Non-linearity. Wave energy theory is linear, which is an approximation that holds only for small waves. In practice, the waves themselves and the interaction of the device with them is likely to be non-linear, potentially requiring very significant computer power to even understand how the device might react to the waves, or accepting uncertainty in performance and maybe life-time of the device.
  • Breaking waves. This is not really a great concern for deep-water WECs, with the possible exception of rogue waves or in survival conditions. However, breaking waves impart huge slamming forces on structures and their moorings, leading to potentially catastrophic failure.

All in all, a very difficult environment to design for and survive in.

Whatever the solution is that emerges from the Wave Energy Prize and other U.S.-based and global development activities, to be successful we need to see large increases in the absorbed power, with high bandwidth and adaptability to different sea states, and maybe even wave-to-wave control, with greatly reduced capital expenditure, reliability, survivability, and maintainability.

The Wave Energy Prize Purse and Seed Funding

Wave Energy Prize Cash Purse

Why participate in the Wave Energy Prize? Teams will be competing for more than $2 million in prizes and seed funding.

The prize purses available to the winner(s) of the Wave Energy Prize will be:

  • 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 1/20ht scale WEC device model at the Carderock MASK Basin – $250,000

To be eligible to win a monetary prize purse, a team’s 1/20th scale device must achieve a threshold of 3m/$M Average Climate Capture Width per Characteristic Capital Expenditure. The judging panel will rank all teams whose devices achieve the threshold and assess their overall performance using the Hydrodynamic Performance Quality (HPQ), outlined in Section 6 of the Wave Energy Prize Rules.

The Wave Energy Prize will also provide seed funding to the Finalists (up to $125,000) and Alternates (up to $25,000) determined at the end of Technology Gate 2. This seed funding will be provided to the Finalists and Alternates for costs associated with the building of the 1/20th scale model to be tested at the MASK Basin, as well as costs associated with the shipment of the 1/20th scale model and participation in the testing process.

Wave Energy Prize presentation from 2015 IMREC on SlideShare

Wave Energy Prize - April 2015 NHA/IMREC Presentation

Did you miss us at the National Hydropower Association (NHA) and International Marine Renewable Energy Conference (IMREC) last week? View the Wave Energy Prize April 2015 NHA/IMREC presentation on SlideShare:

Making wave energy tech twice as efficient: ‘VOA’ interview with Energy Department’s Jose Zayas

Wave Energy Prize - Voice of America April 2015

The efficiency of today’s technologies for capturing wave energy is only about 20 percent. Jose Zayas, director of the Wind and Water Power Technologies Office at the U.S. Department of Energy, wants to double that.

Learn why, as well as how Mr. Zayas believes the Wave Energy Prize will spark real economic competitiveness in the clean energy industry, in this exclusive interview with Voice of America.