Funding competition Energy Catalyst round 8: clean energy - experimental development

Organisations can apply for a share of up to £20 million to develop and demonstrate innovative solutions for clean, affordable and secure energy access in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia or South East Asia

This competition is now closed.

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Competition sections


The aim of this competition is to support highly innovative, market-focused energy solutions in any technology or sector.

Your project must encourage the development of products and services that help countries in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, South East Asia or multiple regions access secure, low cost and low carbon energy. They must be targeted at people, public services and local enterprises who are unable to afford or access existing solutions, or who lack the time or expertise to successfully use those solutions.

Your proposal 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:

  1. Early stage for feasibility studies.
  2. Mid-stage for industrial research.
  3. Late stage for experimental development (this strand).

This is the late stage competition for experimental development. It is your responsibility to make sure you submit your application for the correct stage.

Your late stage project’s total eligible costs must be between £50,000 and £5 million.

The competition closes at 11am UK time on the deadline stated.

Funding type


Project size

Your late stage project’s total eligible costs must be between £50,000 and £5,000,000.

Who can apply

To be eligible for funding you can be from any country. If you are an international organisation, you need to partner with a UK administration lead and must be one of the following types of organisation:

International organisations must partner with a UK registered administrative lead. If you are a UK SME, you can apply on your own.

Your project must involve a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME), from anywhere in the world, either as a technical lead or consortium member.

State aid

Any UK registered business claiming funding must be eligible to receive state aid at the time we confirm you will be awarded funding. It is not possible to award grant funding to organisations meeting the condition known as undertakings in difficulty. However, if you are unsure please take legal advice. For further information see our general guidance on state aid.

Your project

Your project must:

  • have total eligible costs between £50,000 and £5,000,000
  • start by 1 April 2021
  • end by 31 March 2024
  • last between 12 and 36 months
  • must intend to use the results to help deliver clean energy access in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, or South East Asia
  • must involve at least one partner with a legal entity in one of the focus countries in Africa and South Asia, this could include in-country offices
  • must include a UK registered administrative lead
  • must involve at least one small or medium-sized enterprise (SME), from anywhere in the world

We use the EU definition of an SME to determine company size for both EU and international companies.

If your project’s total eligible costs or duration falls outside of our eligibility criteria, you must provide justification by email to at least 10 working days before the competition closes. We will decide whether to approve your request.

Lead applicants

The administrative lead:

  • must be a UK registered business of any size
  • will be the recipient of the award and will distribute funding to the international partners (known as a ‘hub and spoke’ model)
  • will manage and be accountable for the finances of the project in accordance with the terms and conditions of the award
  • must claim grant funding through this competition

The technical lead:

  • can be from anywhere in the world
  • will lead on the development of the scope, work packages within the project and other work from a technical perspective
  • can be a business (of any size)
  • must claim grant funding through this competition

If you are an SME from outside the UK you cannot apply on your own as there must be a UK administrative lead.

UK- registered businesses of any size can be both the administrative and technical lead.

Academic institutions cannot lead or work alone.


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, South Asia or South East Asia. This can be done by either a UK or international partner.

The lead organisation must claim funding through the Innovation Funding Service in this competition. For the project to be collaborative, at least one other organisation in the consortium must also claim funding. This can also be the administrative lead if they are involved in the technology development.

Each partner organisation must be invited into the Innovation Funding Service by the lead to collaborate on a project. Partners must enter their own project costs into the Innovation Funding Service.

At least one other organisation in the consortium must also claim funding. This can also be the administrative lead if they are involved in the technology development.


Subcontractors are allowed in this competition. Subcontractors can be from anywhere in the world. We would expect subcontractor costs to be justified and appropriate to the total eligible project costs.

International partners

We strongly encourage the inclusion of international partners (business or other), where relevant to the project.

Previous applications


You can use a resubmission to apply for this competition. A resubmission is a proposal Innovate UK judges as not materially different from one you have submitted before. It can be updated based on the assessors' feedback.

Previous projects

Under the terms of Innovate UK funding, you must submit an independent accountant’s report (IAR) with your final claim. If you or any organisation in your consortium failed to submit an IAR on a previous project, we will not award funding to you in this or any other competition until we have received the documents.


We have allocated up to £20 million to fund innovation projects across the 3 strands in this competition. £5m of the this funding is provided by the Department for International Development (DFID).

State Aid

If your organisation’s work on the project is mostly commercial or economic, your funding request must not exceed the limits below. These limits apply even if your organisation normally acts non-economically.

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 organisation
  • up to 35% if you are a medium-sized organisation
  • up to 25% if you are a large organisation

Grant awards to international partners will be at the same percentage as equivalent UK organisations. International partners will be funded through the UK lead partner.

Research organisations

The research organisations undertaking non-economic activity in your consortium can share up to 30% of the total eligible project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation, this maximum is shared between them.

Official Development Assistance Budget (ODA)

You must be able to demonstrate that there is a clear economic and social benefit to one or more of the targeted countries. This is because the funding forms part of the UK government’s official development assistance budget (ODA).

If projects are judged to be non-compliant with ODA, Innovate UK will not submit the application for assessment.

Capital usage

Expenditure on capital usage is eligible for funding. All materials must be directly related to and essential to the goals of the project alongside meeting ODA requirements.

Portfolio approach

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. This may include balancing by competition strands, technology areas, and geographic region.

Energy Catalyst Grant Funding - State aid

This competition provides state aid grant funding under article 25, ‘standard collaborative research and development (CR&D)’, of the General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER). It is your responsibility to make sure your organisation is eligible to receive state aid.

Energy Catalyst Accelerator– de minimis

Technology leads of successful Energy Catalyst applications will be enrolled in the Energy Catalyst Accelerator. One to one support for this programme will be provided through de minimis aid. The guidelines for De minimis must be followed, you must declare any previous De minimis aid received in the past 3 fiscal years and keep all relevant documentation for 3 years.

Your proposal

The Energy Catalyst Programme is open to any energy technology from any sector. However, to be in scope for round 8 your project must address the following 3 subjects:

1.Energy access

Your project must aim to speed up access to affordable, clean energy services for poor households, enterprises and social institutions in in sub-Saharan-Africa, South Asia, or South East Asia. It must do this by supporting the development, testing and/or scale up of innovative technologies and business models.

Energy Catalyst is open to both on-grid and off-grid energy solutions which are aimed at delivering “Sustainable Development Goal 7: ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”

Eligible countries

Your project must target one or more of the following countries.

Sub-Saharan Africa:

  • Angola
  • Benin
  • Botswana
  • Burkina Faso
  • Burundi
  • Cabo Verde
  • Cameroon
  • Central African Republic
  • Chad
  • Comoros
  • Congo
  • Côte d'Ivoire
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo
  • Djibouti
  • Eritrea
  • Eswatini (Swaziland)
  • Ethiopia
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Gabon
  • Gambia
  • Ghana
  • Guinea
  • Guinea-Bissau
  • Kenya
  • Lesotho
  • Liberia
  • Madagascar
  • Malawi
  • Mali
  • Mauritania
  • Mozambique
  • Namibia
  • Niger
  • Nigeria
  • Rwanda
  • Sao Tome and Principe
  • Senegal
  • Sierra Leone
  • Somalia
  • South Africa
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Tanzania
  • Togo
  • Uganda
  • Zambia
  • Zimbabwe
South Asia and South East Asia
  • Afghanistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Bhutan
  • Cambodia
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Laos
  • Malaysia
  • Myanmar
  • Nepal
  • Pakistan
  • Philippines
  • Sri Lanka
  • Thailand
  • Vietnam

Department for International Development (DFID) funding

DFID is providing up to £5million of funding in this competition. Although DFID is willing to consider funding any technology which meets the above criteria, up to £3million will be prioritised for projects specifically for energy storage.

DFID is also particularly interested in supporting projects in the areas of:

  • modern cooking
  • sustainable cooling
  • next generation solar
  • efficient and productive appliances technologies and business models which help leave no-one behind, but will consider outstanding projects in other areas.

DFID is particularly interested in supporting projects which focus on the following priority countries although outstanding projects in other eligible geographies may be considered:

  • Afghanistan
  • Bangladesh
  • Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Ethiopia
  • Ghana
  • Kenya
  • Liberia
  • Malawi
  • Mozambique
  • Myanmar
  • Nepal
  • Nigeria
  • Pakistan
  • Rwanda
  • Sierra Leone
  • Somalia
  • South Sudan
  • Sudan
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda
  • Zambia

2.The energy ‘trilemma’

Your proposal must tackle all 3 areas of the energy ‘trilemma’:

  • be clean
  • be affordable
  • enable security of supply and energy access

3.Gender and social inclusion

Your application must take into account gender equality and social inclusion issues. You must demonstrate the following in your response and logic model:

  • 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
  • explain how your project will encourage equality

Specific themes

Your project could focus on, for example:

  • making new solutions more affordable
  • integrating technologies in new systems or business models to help unlock finance and deployment
  • developing technologies or partnership business models that address other barriers to deployment, such as skills required to develop or maintain technologies
  • unlocking under-served market segments that existing solutions are not reaching at scale, such as rural areas, frontier markets or specific energy end-users

Research categories

We will fund experimental development, as defined in the guidance on categories of research.

Projects we will not fund

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, South Asia or South East Asia
  • projects that do not address all areas of the energy ‘trilemma’: cost, emissions and security of supply
  • projects which are not Official Development Assistance (ODA) compliant
  • projects that do not take into account and plan to manage gender equality and social inclusion issues

16 June 2020
Competition opens
29 June 2020

Online brokerage: register for brokerage

29 June 2020
Online briefing: view recording
16 September 2020 11:00am
Competition closes
14 December 2020
Applicants notified

Before you start

You must read the guidance on applying for a competition on the Innovation Funding Service before you start.

Innovate UK is unable to award grant funding to organisations meeting the condition known as undertakings in difficulty.

The UK administrative lead is responsible for the following:

  • collecting the information for the application
  • submitting the finished application
  • representing the consortium if your application is successful

What we ask you

The application is split into 3 sections:

  1. Project details.
  2. Application questions.
  3. Finances.

1. Project details

This section provides background for the assessors and is not scored.

Project summary

Describe your project briefly, and be clear about what makes it innovative. We use this section to assign experts to assess your application.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

Public description

Describe your project in detail, and in a way that you are happy to see published. Do not include any commercially sensitive information. If we award your project funding, we will publish this description. This could happen before you start your project.

Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

Project information

Write the names of the people who will do the following roles on the project:

  • administrative lead
  • technical lead

List the following information:

  • country or countries the project will focus on, from the list in ‘Scope’.
  • technology sector

2. Application questions: Gateway

Gateway questions:

These questions provide background for the assessors to make sure your project is eligible and complies with Official Development Assistance (ODA), gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) and the competition scope.

These questions will be scored on a pass or fail basis.

If your project does not pass all 3 questions, it will be immediately rejected and will not be sent for assessment.

Question 1. Official Development Assistance (ODA)

To be eligible for Energy Catalyst grant funding, you must clearly explain and give evidence for why and how your project is in scope for Official Development Assistance. You must also complete the additional appendix referenced below.

Describe how your project will promote the social welfare and economic development of an eligible country for this competition, by addressing a development need in that country.

Describe the benefits to project partners and to those people outside the consortium (in the developing country, particularly people in poverty and underserved groups). Make a clear distinction between the two. Be clear about what stakeholder groups in the developing country you expect to benefit from this project. Avoid making generic statements.

You must explain how the project will, or has the potential to, deliver outcomes and impact in terms of energy access to poor households, businesses and services in an eligible country, and over what timescale?

You must give sufficient detail and data on how your project outputs are likely to create socio-economic impacts, whether they are positive or negative. You have an opportunity to explain your rationale on how the expected outputs and impacts in the appendix, including a basic logic model.

You must download the ODA template and complete it. Upload it as a PDF and no larger than 10MB. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 2. Meeting the energy trilemma

Describe how your project fits the energy triliema requirements of scope for the competition. Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

Question 3. Gender equality and social inclusion (GESI)

Describe how your project is helping to promote gender equality and social inclusion?

Your answers are a mandatory requirement for all Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) programmes under the International Development (Gender Equality) Act, 2014. Further guidance on UKRI’s approach to the Gender Equality Act can be found here.

Who is involved?

To make sure that your innovation has the highest chance of being successfully adopted, you will need to understand the cultures, attitudes and other context specific factors in the developing country you are focusing on.

In order to deliver the desired economic and societal impacts, you will need to take into account gender equality and social inclusion issues by:

  • highlighting any relevant diversity and social inclusion experience or expertise within the core project team and their businesses
  • providing information on any partner organisations you are already working with and their role and expertise related to gender equality and social inclusion, such as community groups, NGOs or government stakeholders
  • identifying where you see the need to build new links with partner organisations and why

How will you factor this into your project plan?


  • how your project will address gender equality and social inclusion issues, including for poorer consumers, disabled people and older people
  • how you will measure this
  • how this will feed into the overall project plan in question 7

What is the potential?

Describe your current understanding of:

  • the expected outcomes of your project and benefits of your innovation on gender equality and social inclusion
  • the potential negative effects of your project and innovation, and how you plan to mitigate against these

2. Application questions: detailed

The assessors will score your answers for the following questions. You will receive feedback from them for each one.
Your answer to each question can be up to 400 words long. Do not include any website addresses (URLs) in your answers.
Question 4. Equality, diversity and inclusion (not scored)

We collect and report on equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) data to address under-representation in business innovation and ensure equality, diversity and inclusion across all our activities.

You must complete this EDI survey and type ‘EDI survey completed’ within your answer. The survey will ask you questions on your gender, age, ethnicity and disability status. You will always have the option to ‘prefer not to say’ if you do not feel comfortable sharing this information.

Question 5. Need or challenge

What is the business need, technological challenge or market opportunity behind your innovation?

Describe or explain:

  • the main motivation for the project
  • the business need, technological challenge or market opportunity
  • the nearest current state-of-the-art, including those near market or in development, and its limitations
  • any work you have already done to respond to this need, for example if the project focuses on developing an existing capability or building a new one
  • the wider economic, social, environmental, cultural or political challenges which are influential in creating the opportunity, such as incoming regulations, using our Horizons tool if appropriate

Question 6. Approach and innovation

What approach will you take and where will the focus of the innovation be?

Describe or explain:

  • how you will respond to the need, challenge or opportunity identified
  • how you will improve on the nearest current state-of-the-art identified
  • whether the innovation will focus on the application of existing technologies in new areas, the development of new technologies for existing areas or a totally disruptive approach
  • the freedom you have to operate
  • how this project fits with your current product, service lines or offerings
  • how it will make you more competitive
  • the nature of the outputs you expect from the project (for example report, demonstrator, know-how, new process, product or service design) and how these will help you to target the need, challenge or opportunity identified

You can submit one appendix to support your answer. It can include diagrams and charts. It must be a PDF and can be up to 2 A4 pages long. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 7. Team and resources

Who is in the project team and what are their roles?

Describe or explain:

  • the roles, skills and experience of all members of the project team that are relevant to the approach you will be taking
  • the connection with, and representation of, nationals of the focus countries (for collaborative projects a participant from a focus country is a requirement)
  • the resources, equipment and facilities needed for the project and how you will access them
  • the details of any vital external parties, including sub-contractors, who you will need to work with to successfully carry out the project
  • (if your project is collaborative) the current relationships between project partners and how these will change as a result of the project
  • any roles you will need to recruit for

You can submit one appendix to support your answer. This can include a short summary of the main people working on the project. It must be a PDF and can be up to 4 A4 pages long. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 8. Market awareness

What does the market you are targeting look like?

Describe or explain:

  • the markets (domestic, international or both) you will be targeting in the project, and any other potential markets
  • the size of the target markets for the project outcomes, backed up by references where available
  • the structure and dynamics of the target markets, including customer segmentation, together with predicted growth rates within clear time frames
  • the target markets’ main supply or value chains and business models, and any barriers to entry that exist
  • the current UK position in targeting these markets
  • the size and main features of any other markets not already listed

If your project is highly innovative, where the market may be unexplored, describe or explain:

  • what the market’s size might to be
  • how your project will try to explore the market’s potential

Question 9. Outcomes and route to market

How are you going to grow your business and increase your productivity into the long term as a result of the project?

Describe or explain:

  • your current position in the markets and supply or value chains outlined, and whether you will be extending or establishing your market position
  • your target customers or end users, and the value to them, for example why they would use or buy your product
  • your route to market
  • how you are going to profit from the innovation, including increased revenues or cost reduction
  • how the innovation will affect your productivity and growth, in both the short and the long term
  • how you will protect and exploit the outputs of the project, for example through know-how, patenting, designs or changes to your business model
  • your strategy for targeting the other markets you have identified during or after the project

If there is any research organisation activity in the project, describe:

  • ·your plans to spread the project’s research outputs over a reasonable timescale
  • ·how you expect to use the results generated from the project in further research activities

Question 10. Wider impacts

What impact might this project have outside the project team?

Describe, and where possible, measure the economic benefits from the project such as productivity increases and import substitution, to:

  • external parties
  • customers
  • others in the supply chain
  • broader industry
  • the UK economy

Describe, and where possible, measure:

  • any expected impact on government priorities
  • any expected environmental impacts, either positive or negative
  • any expected regional impacts of the project

Describe any expected social impacts, either positive or negative on, for example:

  • quality of life
  • social inclusion or exclusion
  • jobs, such as safeguarding, creating, changing or displacing them
  • education
  • public empowerment
  • health and safety
  • regulations
  • diversity

Question 11. Project management

How will you manage the project effectively?

Describe or explain:

  • the main work packages of the project, indicating the lead partner assigned to each and the total cost of each one
  • your approach to project management, identifying any major tools and mechanisms you will use to get a successful and innovative project outcome
  • the management reporting lines
  • your project plan in enough detail to identify any links or dependencies between work packages or milestones

You must submit a project plan or Gantt chart as an appendix to support your answer. It must be a PDF and can be up to 2 A4 pages long. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 12. Project legacy

What will the effect of the project be on energy access in the target country beyond the lifetime of the project?

You are expected to consider how you will contribute to improving wider energy access in the target country, outside of technology development.

For example, describe or explain:

  • the continued benefit to the target country in relation to the wider energy access agenda and delivery of Global Goal 7 (including renewable energy and energy efficiency)
  • the connections and networks made through the project and consortium
  • skills development and training in country

Question 13. Risks

What are the main risks for this project?

Describe or explain:

  • the main risks and uncertainties of the project, including the technical, commercial, managerial and environmental risks providing a risk register if appropriate
  • how you will mitigate these risks
  • any project inputs that are critical to completion, such as resources, expertise, data sets
  • any output likely to be subject to regulatory requirements, certification, ethical issues and so on, and how you will manage this

You must submit a risk register as an appendix to support your answer. It must be a PDF and can be up to 2 A4 pages long. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 14. Added value

What impact would an injection of public funding have on the businesses involved?

Describe or explain:

  • whether this project could go ahead in any form without public funding and if so, the difference the public funding would make, such as a faster route to market, more partners or reduced risk
  • the likely impact of the project on the businesses of the partners involved
  • why you are not able to wholly fund the project from your own resources or other forms of private-sector funding, and what would happen if the application is unsuccessful
  • how this project would change the nature of R&D activity the partners would undertake, and the related spend

Question 15. Costs and value for money

How much will the project cost and how does it represent value for money for the team and the taxpayer?

In terms of the project goals, describe or explain:

  • the total eligible project costs
  • the grant you are requesting
  • how each partner will finance their contributions to the project
  • how this project represents value for money for you and the taxpayer
  • how it compares to what you would spend your money on otherwise
  • the balance of costs and grant across the project partners
  • any sub-contractor costs and why they are critical to the project

3. Finances

Each organisation in your project must complete their own project costs, organisation details and funding details in the application. Academic institutions must complete and upload a Je-S form.

For full details on what costs you can claim see our project costs guidance.

Background and further information

Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), the Department for International Development (DFID), as part of the Transforming Energy Access (TEA) programme, and Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will invest up to £20 million.


Your project manager, and others as may be agreed from time to time, will meet with your Monitoring Officer (MO) once a calendar quarter (or agreed period) to review your written report for the period since the last monitoring meeting. You should deliver this report to your MO no later than 14 days before the scheduled monitoring meeting. Overseas partners are required to dial into these meetings every quarter.

Additional reporting is required to comply with DFID’s request surrounding key performance indicators (KPIs) and data capture for impact analysis. Your MO will discuss the extra requirements at your initial meeting and a plan will be put in place to capture this information quarterly. The project will also be required to complete a survey 1 to 2 times a year to support DFID annual reporting. Quarterly claims are not approved until reporting is completed to a satisfactory level.

Your obligations - Energy Catalyst Accelerator

All successful projects will be enrolled onto Innovate UK’s Energy Catalyst Accelerator. The technology lead on each project, and where relevant their project partners, will need to engage with this accelerator. Accelerator support aims to improve the likelihood of successfully commercialising these innovative solutions for clean energy access in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, andSouth East Asia.

The Energy Catalyst Accelerator one to one support for this programme will be provided through de minimis aid. Companies in receipt of this support will be required to provide a de minimis aid declaration prior to receiving this support.

Payment of grant

If a project has an international partner then all partners will receive their grants via a hub and spoke model. This means grant claims and payments to partners are submitted via the lead organisation.

Business support is offered to projects where available through the Energy Catalyst Accelerator and will be fulfilled under de minimis aid. Projects can opt out if they have already reached their de minimis aid limit.

Financial support for the project forms part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment. This is monitored by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Extra help

To support the requirement of collaborative applications and the understanding of energy access in a variety of countries, Innovate UK are hosting an energy catalyst b2Match platform. This platform is free to access. Registration is available now, with country specific webinars and one to one brokerage sessions available throughout June. Full details are provided on the platform.

If you want help to find a project partner, contact the Knowledge Transfer Network.

If you need more information, email us at or call the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357.

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