open now Opened: 18 May 2022 | Closes: 10 August 2022
Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, will work with the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) as part of the Ayrton Fund to invest up to £20 million in innovation projects.
The aim of this competition is to accelerate the innovations needed to create new or improved clean energy access in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia or Indo-Pacific regions. This will create a just and inclusive energy transition and extend the benefits of clean energy to all to meet sustainable development goals (SDGs) 7 'Affordable and clean energy' and 13 'Climate action'.
Your proposal must focus on:
- improving energy access in official development assistance (ODA) eligible countries in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Indo-Pacific regions
- have a technology or business model which is affordable, reliable and low carbon
- consider the role of gender equality and social inclusion (GESI)
This competition is split into 3 strands:
- Energy Catalyst Round 9 – Early Stage (this strand)
- Energy Catalyst Round 9 – Mid Stage
- Energy Catalyst Round 9 – Late Stage
Innovate UK runs many different competitions, and each will have different eligibility and scope requirements. The guidance in this competition brief will always supersede any other guidance. If you are unsure or have any questions, please contact our Customer Support Service who will assist you further.
In applying to this competition, you are entering into a competitive process. This competition closes at 11am UK time on the deadline stated.
Your project’s total costs must be between £50,000 and £300,000.
Who can apply
Your project must:
- have total costs between £50,000 and £300,000
- start by 1 April 2023
- end by 31 March 2026
- last between 3 months and 12 months
- intend to use the results to help deliver clean energy access in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, or the Indo-Pacific
- include a UK registered administrative lead
- if you are an international organisation, partner with a UK administrative lead
- involve at least one micro, small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) from anywhere in the world
Your project can also involve organisations from any country.
You must only include eligible project costs in your application.
Under current restrictions, this competition will not fund any procurement, commercial, business development or supply chain activity with any Russian entity as lead, partner or subcontractor. This includes any goods or services originating from a Russian source.
If your total project’s costs or duration falls outside of our eligibility criteria, you must provide justification by email to firstname.lastname@example.org at least 10 working days before the competition closes. Innovate UK will decide whether to approve your request. If you have not requested approval or your application has not been approved by us, you will be made ineligible. Your application will then not be sent for assessment.
There are two types of leads in energy catalyst, an administrative lead, who will start the application and a technology lead.
An administrative lead is there to act as the recipient of the award and will distribute funding to all other partners. This is known as a ‘hub and spoke’ model when there is an international partner in the consortium. The administrative lead will manage and be accountable for the finances of the project in accordance with the terms and conditions of the award.
The administrative lead must:
- be registered in the UK
- claim grant funding through this competition
A technology lead will lead on the development of the scope, work packages within the project and other work from a technical perspective.
The technology lead:
- can be from anywhere in the world
- must claim grant funding through this competition
- can be an SME, RTO or academic institution
UK registered organisations can be both the administrative and technical lead if the criteria is met for both types of leads.
To collaborate with the lead, your organisation must be one of the following:
- business of any size
- academic institution
- not for profit
- non-governmental organisation (NGO)
- research and technology organisation (RTO)
Innovate UK strongly encourages the inclusion of international partners (business or other), where relevant to the project.
Each partner organisation must be invited into the Innovation Funding Service by the lead to collaborate on a project. Once accepted, partners will be asked to login or to create an account and enter their own project costs into the Innovation Funding Service.
Your project can include partners that do not receive any of this competition’s funding. Their costs will count towards the total project costs.
Subcontractors are allowed in this competition.
Subcontractors can be from anywhere in the world and you must select them through your usual procurement process.
All subcontractor costs must be justified and appropriate to the total project costs.
Number of applications
All eligible organisations can lead or collaborate on any number of applications.
You can use a previously submitted application to apply for this competition.
Innovate UK will not award you funding if you have:
- failed to exploit a previously funded project
- an overdue independent accountant’s report
- failed to comply with grant terms and conditions
Subsidy control (and State aid where applicable)
This competition provides funding in line with the UK's international obligations and commitments to Subsidy Control. Further information about the UK Subsidy Control requirements can be found within the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation agreement and the subsequent guidance from the department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Additional information can be found about the rules governed by the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Innovate UK is unable to award organisations that are considered to be in financial difficulty. Innovate UK will conduct financial viability and eligibility tests to confirm this is not the case following the application stage.
EU State aid rules now only apply in limited circumstances. Please see our general guidance to check if these rules apply to your organisation.
If you are unsure about your obligations under the UK Subsidy Control regime, World Trade Organisation rules or the State aid rules, you should take independent legal advice. Innovate UK is unable to advise on individual eligibility or legal obligations.
You must at all times make sure that the funding awarded to you is compliant with all current Subsidy Control legislation applicable in the United Kingdom.
This aims to regulate any advantage granted by a public sector body which threatens to, or actually distorts competition in the United Kingdom or any other country or countries.
If there are any changes to the above requirements that mean Innovate UK needs to change the terms of this competition, Innovate UK will tell you as soon as possible.
Up to £20 million has been allocated to fund innovation projects in this competition. Funding will be in the form of a grant.
If your organisation’s work on the project is commercial or economic, your funding request must not exceed the limits below. These limits apply even if your organisation normally acts non-economically but for the purpose of this project will be undertaking commercial or economic activity.
For Mid Stage industrial research projects, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:
- up to 70% if you are a micro or small organisation
- up to 60% if you are a medium sized organisation
- up to 50% if you are a large organisation
If you are applying for an award funded under State aid Regulations, the definitions are set out in the European Commission Recommendation of 6 May 2003.
Official development assistance budget
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.
Expenditure on capital is eligible for funding. All materials must be directly related to and essential to the goals of the project.
Energy Catalyst is funded by the official development assistant (ODA) budget. If you plan to leave capital equipment in the ODA eligible country you can, in principle, fully depreciate the costs.
Assets can be transferred but before Innovate UK can agree to this, you must provide evidence that:
- the asset will be put to a good developmental purpose
- the recipient has adequate resources to maintain and operate the asset, including purchase of any consumables
- the item will not be sold or disposed of, or diverted for another purpose, within a 12 month period of the end of your project
- the recipient has adequate controls in place to ensure that the assets are used as intended
- any local requirements, regarding duties and taxes, or any other formalities, on transfer will be met
- IT Equipment is disposed of in line with EU Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations and all personal data will be removed
This evidence should take the form of an end of life plan. If you are successful in being awarded funding, our project finance team will ask for this evidence to sign off your finances as part of project set up.
The research organisations undertaking non-economic activity as part of the project can share up to 30% of the total eligible project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation undertaking non-economic activity, this maximum is shared between them.
Of that 30% you could get funding for your eligible project costs of up to:
- 80% of full economic costs (FEC) if you are a UK Je-S registered institution such as an academic
- 100% of your project costs if you are an RTO, charity, not for profit organisation, NGO or research organisation
Energy Catalyst Accelerator Programme (ECAP): Minimal Financial Assistance
The technical 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 minimal financial assistance (MFA). This allows public bodies to award up to £315,000 to an enterprise in a 3-year rolling financial period.
You will be contacted if you are successful and will be provided instruction on how to obtain this support.
Before receiving the support, you will be asked to declare previous funding received by you. To establish your eligibility, Innovate UK needs to check that our support added to the amount you have previously received does not exceed the limit of £315,000 in the ‘applicable period’.
The applicable period is made up of:
(a) the elapsed part of the current financial year, and
(b) the two financial years immediately preceding the current financial year.
You must include any funding which you have received during the applicable period under:
- Minimal Financial Assistance (previously referred to as Special Drawing Rights)
- De Minimis Regulation
You do not need to include aid or subsidies which have been granted on a different basis (such as an aid award granted under the General Block Exemption Regulation).
Further information about the UK subsidy control requirements can be found in:
EU Commission rules now only apply in limited circumstances. Please see our general guidance to check if these rules apply to your organisation.
The aim of this competition is to accelerate the innovations needed to create new or improved clean energy access in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia or the Indo-Pacific region. Creating a just and inclusive energy transition and extend the benefits of clean energy to all to meet sustainable development goals (SDGs) 7 'Affordable and clean energy' and 13 'Climate action'.
To be in scope for Energy Catalyst round 9, your project must address all three of the following areas:
1. Energy access
Improving energy access in official development assistance (ODA) eligible countries in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia or the Indo-Pacific region.
Your project must aim to speed up access to affordable, clean energy services for poor households, enterprises and social institutions in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia or the Indo-Pacific region. It must do this by supporting the development, testing or scale up of innovative technologies or business models.
A clear social or economic benefit in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia or the Indo-Pacific Region is required.
This can include:
- creating new energy access in unserved regions
- improving existing access to provide a more reliable service
Your project must target one or more of the following eligible countries.
- Burkina Faso
- Cabo Verde
- Central African Republic
- Côte d'Ivoire
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Eswatini (Swaziland)
- Equatorial Guinea
- Sao Tome and Principe (may be ineligible from 13 December 2024)
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- South Sudan
- India (only as part of multi country projects)
- Sri Lanka
Indo-Pacific (ODA eligible ASEAN):
- Timor-Leste (not officially part of ASEAN)
Indo-Pacific (Pacific Islands):
- Federated States of Micronesia
- Marshall islands
- Papua New Guinea (PNG)
- Solomon Islands
2. Clean Energy
Your technology or business model must create clean energy which is:
3. Low carbon.
3. Gender equality and social inclusion (GESI)
Your application must take into account gender equality and social inclusion issues. You must demonstrate all of 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
Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) funding
FCDO is providing up to £10 million of funding in this competition. Although FCDO is willing to consider funding any technology which meets the above criteria, including solution integrations across multiple technology areas, they are prioritising projects focused in the following Ayrton Challenge areas:
- next generation solar technologies and business models
- smart green grids, including mini and main grid related technologies
- energy storage, including batteries and mechanical storage
- low carbon hydrogen
- modern cooking
- low energy inclusive appliances
- leave no one behind, specifically technologies and business models
- targeting poor or marginalised groups or fragile contexts
- sustainable cooling
Innovate UK reserves the right to use a portfolio approach to fund a variety of projects across the strands of the competition, different technologies, markets, technological maturities, geographic regions and research categories. Innovate UK calls this a portfolio approach.
This is to make sure that the strategic criteria for the competition brief is met by successful projects considered to be above the quality threshold. This will be as a result of independent expert assessment.
Projects that will not be funded
Innovate UK is not funding projects that are:
- 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 the Indo-Pacific region
- not addressing clean energy requirements
- not Official Development Assistance (ODA) compliant
- not taking into account or do not plan to manage gender equality and social inclusion issues
- dependent on export performance
- dependent on domestic inputs usage