Energy Catalyst: what it is and how to apply for funding

An overview of the Energy Catalyst programme and the opportunities for UK businesses to accelerate their growth and tackle the challenge of access to energy.

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For up to date information see Energy Catalyst: innovation funding guidance.


The Energy Catalyst programme supports UK and overseas businesses and organisations to develop highly innovative, market-focused energy technologies that primarily look to enable energy access in Sub-Saharan Africa and South/South East Asia.

Businesses can apply into funding competitions to get a grant to carry out an innovation project, regardless of the stage that project is at.

Projects must address the following challenges:

  • energy trilemma based on 3 pillars – cost, emissions and security
  • energy access
  • gender equality and social inclusion

This guidance is designed to help organisations understand the programme and find out how to access the different types of support so they can develop and commercialise their ideas much more quickly than they otherwise would.

What is the Energy Catalyst?

1.1 billion people globally go without access to modern energy services, and a further billion experience intermittent access.

Innovate UK’s Energy Catalyst programme aims to support businesses to develop highly innovative, sustainable energy technologies and business models, which are accelerating the clean energy transition in developing and emerging economies.

A particular focus is on addressing the clean energy access challenge in Sub-Saharan Africa and South/South East Asia.

It does this through:

  1. Collaboration building: Running a series of international brokerage events for organisations to understand the energy access issues in country, and the potential market, as well as meet local businesses that may wish to collaborate on a project

  2. Competition: Annual grant competition for any type of organisations from across the world, to collaborate and get funding for early, mid or late stage projects which look at sustainable energy technology in Sub-Saharan Africa and South/South East Asia

  3. Accelerator programme: Business accelerator programme to help those that are successful in the competition to scale their business, not just their technology

  4. Post competition support: Helping previous winners to find additional grant or private sector funding to help scale their technology

  5. Learning from overseas: Learning and sharing events to disseminate lessons learnt and new technologies to both government and the private sector.

The programme is run by Innovate UK and is co-funded by partners including the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Department for International Development, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Global Challenges Research Fund.

Who can apply

Any type of organisation from anywhere in the world can be involved in Energy Catalyst.

To lead you will need to do the following:

The administrative lead

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

Depending on the stage of your project and the size of your business, you can work alone or collaborate with others.

Competition themes

UK and overseas businesses can apply for support to develop highly innovative, sustainable energy technologies and business models, which are accelerating the clean energy transition in developing and emerging economies.

Energy Access Challenge

  • around 1 billion people still do not have access to electricity and around 3 billion people still rely on solid fuels and kerosene for cooking and heating
  • energy is a key factor in sustainable development and poverty alleviation
  • UN Sustainable Development Goal 7: ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
  • given current conditions, universal access to energy will not be met by 2030 unless urgent measures are taken
  • vast majority (80%) of those gaining access to electricity worldwide are in urban areas
  • grid based systems face economic and governance barriers
  • opportunities for decentralised and smart systems

The energy trilemma

The biggest challenges faced by the sector, are described by the World Energy Council as the ‘energy trilemma’.

These are:

  • cost – reducing the price of energy to make energy, including the heating and powering of homes and buildings, accessible to everyone, at a price that’s reliable and affordable
  • emissions – generating cleaner energy in order to minimise emissions and to protect the environment, which is necessary to meeting the government’s green targets and growing a sustainable economy
  • security of supply – ensuring the supply of energy to people and businesses is supported by infrastructure that is reliable and secure and prevents the disruption, theft or potential shortage of energy

Funding is only offered to projects that address all 3 pillars.

However, as this programme is co-funded, the scope may sometimes be expanded, which will be detailed when a competition is announced.

Type of research and innovation

Businesses can get funding for their project at any stage of the innovation lifecycle.

Early-stage projects

Funding in the early-stage is for technical feasibility projects that explore and evaluate the technical potential of an idea.

Mid-stage projects

Funding in the mid-stage is to for research and development activities, including laboratory studies, system development and testing, as well as verification and evaluation in simulated environments.

Late-stage projects

Funding in the late-stage is for experimental development projects. This can include prototyping and pilot testing of technology in realistic operating environments.

How to apply

You can apply for a grant through an Energy Catalyst competition. Competitions typically run once a year. It is a competitive process and applications cannot be made outside of this time.

Published 7 August 2018
Last updated 31 January 2020 + show all updates
  1. Updated information about the programme, specifically the focus on the energy access challenge for potential applicants.

  2. First published.