Funding competition Energy Catalyst round 6: transforming energy access

Organisations can apply for a share of up to £10 million to address the need for clean, affordable and secure energy in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

This competition is now closed.

Register and apply online

Competition sections


The Department for International Development (DFID) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will invest up to £10 million in innovation projects. These must encourage technology that will help countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia access secure, low cost and low carbon energy.
The aim of this competition is to support highly innovative, market-focused energy solutions in any technology or sector or international market. To be in scope for this round your project must meet the needs of people, businesses and services in Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia.
Proposals must also address all 3 elements of the energy ‘trilemma’:
  • cost
  • emissions
  • security of supply and energy access
There are 3 options to apply into this competition. These are referred to as strands and will be run in parallel. The strands are dependent on the stage your project is at:
  • early stage for feasibility studies
  • mid-stage for industrial research
  • late stage for experimental development
£3 million of the funding is set aside for bioenergy projects.
If your project falls outside of our scope for cost, length or applicable country, please email at least 10 days before the competition closes.

Funding type


Project size

Early stage projects can have total costs of £50,000 to £300,000 and last 6 to 12 months. Mid stage: £50,000 to £1.5 million, 12 to 24 months. Late stage: £50,000 to £3 million, 12 to 30 months. Projects must start by 1 April 2019 and end by 30 Sept 2021.

Who can apply

To be eligible for funding for any strand you must:
  • be a business, academic organisation, charity, public sector organisation or research and technology organisation (RTO)
  • apply as part of a collaboration with a UK organisation if you are based in Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia
  • intend to exploit the results to help deliver clean energy access in Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia
  • involve at least one micro, small or medium-sized enterprise (SME)
We will fund organisations from anywhere in the world.
Find out if your business fits the EU definition of an SME.

Any UK business claiming funding must be eligible to receive state aid. If you are unsure please take legal advice. For further information please see our general guidance..

Early stage
To lead you must be a UK SME or RTO.
If you are a UK SME you can apply on your own.
Larger businesses and other organisations must work in collaboration with others (businesses, research base or third sector)
Mid and late stage
To lead you must be a UK business.
You must work in collaboration with others (businesses, research base or third sector).
Your project must involve some research and development, testing or demonstration work in Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia. This can be done by either a UK or international partner.
International partners
International partners (business or other) are strongly encouraged, where relevant to the project. They will be funded, through the UK lead partner, on the same grant percentage terms as UK organisations.
The lead organisation must claim funding through this competition. If the project is collaborative, at least one other organisation in the consortium must also claim funding.
Please note that a ‘research organisation’ is any organisation receiving 100% funding or 80% full economic costing (FEC) funding.


We have allocated up to £10 million to fund innovation projects in this competition.
You can spend up to £10,000 of project costs per partner on business support. This must be from appropriately qualified and experienced advisers and will be awarded at the same funding rate as the rest of the grant.
The level of total research participation is set at a maximum of 30% of total eligible project costs (or up to 50% for early stage projects). If your consortium contains more than one research organisation, this maximum will be shared between them.
For this competition, we reserve the right to use a portfolio approach. This is to make sure that the strategic criteria described in the competition brief is met for all projects considered to be above the quality threshold. This will be as a result of independent expert assessment.

Your proposal

The Energy Catalyst is open to any energy technology from any sector. However, to be in scope for round 6 your project must successfully consider the following 3 areas:
The energy ‘trilemma’
Your proposal must tackle all 3 areas of the energy 'trilemma' of:
  • clean
  • affordable
  • security of supply and energy access
Transforming Energy Access (TEA) programme
Your project must align with the TEA programme’s priorities. These are to speed up access to affordable, clean energy services for poor households and enterprises in Sub-Saharan-Africa or South Asia. It must do this by supporting the development, testing and/or scale up of innovative technologies and business models.
We are prioritising in-country activities with measurable, scalable and local impacts.
Your application must take into account gender equality and social inclusion issues. You must:
  • identify the main beneficiaries
  • describe how you will mitigate any negative effects
  • provide a plan of how to address both gender and social inclusion during the life of your project
Any type of innovative bioenergy technology which meets needs in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia is in scope.
£3 million of funding is specifically reserved for transformative bioenergy technology in electricity and/or heat applications between 10kW and 5MW. This is part of the Bioenergy for Sustainable Local Energy Services and Energy Access in Africa programme.
Your project can focus on, for example:
  • low cost anaerobic digestion or gasification
  • technology modification and adaptation studies for different feedstocks and environments
  • innovative sub-system or component technologies within bioenergy systems
  • new business or dissemination and uptake models
Your project must address the needs of one or more of the following countries:
East Africa: Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda
West Africa: Ghana, Nigeria
Southern Africa: Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia
Projects must be transformative with potential to scale. We will not fund projects that only install or deploy large numbers of duplicate units or build large kilowatts of plant capacity.

Specific themes

Your project could focus on, for example:
  • demonstrating that a technology works in Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia
  • making new solutions more affordable
  • integrating technologies in new systems or business models to help unlock finance and deployment
  • developing technologies or business models that address other barriers to deployment, such as skills required to develop or maintain technologies
  • unlocking underserved market segments that existing solutions are not reaching at scale, such as rural areas, frontier markets or specific energy end-users
  • bioenergy

Project types

For feasibility studies and industrial research projects, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:
  • up to 70% if you are a small business
  • up to 60% if you are a medium-sized business
  • up to 50% if you are a large business
For experimental development projects which are nearer to market, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:
  • up to 45% if you are a small business
  • up to 35% if you are a medium-sized business
  • up to 25% if you are a large business
Grant awards to international partners will be at the same percentage as equivalent UK organisations.

Projects we will not fund

In this competition, we are not funding:
  • innovations unlikely to contribute significantly to energy affordability, security and reduced carbon emissions
  • innovations that do not improve energy access in either Sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia
  • projects that do not address all areas of the energy ‘trilemma’: cost, emissions and security of supply
  • projects that do not take into account and plan to manage gender equality and social inclusion issues.
  • bioenergy projects that only install or deploy large numbers of duplicate units or build large kilowatts of plant capacity
15 August 2018
Birmingham briefing event. Watch recording
15 August 2018
Online briefing event
20 August 2018
Competition opens
21 August 2018
Manchester brokerage event
18 September 2018
London applicant workshop
20 September 2018
Glasgow applicant workshop
14 November 2018 12:00pm
Registration closes
21 November 2018 12:00pm
Competition closes
25 January 2019
Applicants notified

Before you start

Please read the general guidance for applicants. It will help your chances of submitting a quality application.
To apply:
  • register online using the green button
  • read the guidance for applicants for this competition
  • consider attending one of the briefing events listed in ‘Dates’
  • complete and upload your online application to our secure server
We will not accept late submissions. Your application is confidential.
Your application will be assessed by up to 5 external assessors who are experts in the area of innovation identified in your application. They will score applications consistently and in line with scoring matrices. They will provide written feedback for each marked question
The Department for International Development (DFID) and its advisers will conduct a second stage evaluation to check your application fits with its TEA programme and the needs for gender equality and social inclusion. Applications will be ranked in descending order.
Applications are scored over a quality threshold which is reviewed against Innovate UK’s strategy, to build a portfolio of projects that:
  • are high quality
  • target opportunities across a range of technologies, themes and priorities
  • demonstrate sufficient innovation, potential return on investment and degree of technical risk
  • demonstrate value for money, include the potential impact of the project relative to its cost, and the cost of other projects under consideration
  • meet scope and portfolio priorities as determined by the individual co-funders
The lead applicant will be notified of the funding decision.
All applications will receive assessor feedback.
Only use Microsoft Word for the application form. If your application cannot be read in Microsoft Word, it will be ineligible.

Background and further information

Energy in developing countries
Reliable energy services are crucial to human wellbeing and to a community’s economic development. They can transform people’s lives, and yet:
  • 1.1 billion people globally go without access to electricity
  • a further billion experience intermittent access
  • almost 3 billion people still cook on traditional biomass
Most of these people live in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and South Asia (SA). Despite global investment in the power sector, generation capacity struggles to meet demand and reach low income communities. Traditional, centralised grid-based approaches are often not feasible or affordable for many unserved poor households, businesses and community services, like schools and clinics.
Extra help
If you want help to find a project partner, contact the Knowledge Transfer Network.
If you need more information, email us at

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