Energy Catalyst Africa launches in South Africa to support energy technology development

Energy technology innovation and funding network Innovate UK has launched the Energy Catalyst Africa programme in South Africa to support the development of energy technologies.

Energy technology innovation and funding network Innovate UK has launched the Energy Catalyst Africa programme in South Africa to support the development of energy technologies by providing early- to late-stage development and commercialisation funding.

The UK government-led programme is aimed at accelerating innovation needed to end energy poverty, and provides financial and advisory support to help bring to market technologies and business models that can improve lives in Africa and Asia, Innovate UK impact and performance manager Amy Flynn said on June 27.

“The challenge is that 789-million people worldwide in 2018 lacked access to electricity and, despite efforts, it is estimated that 650-million people worldwide will still lack access to electricity by 2030,” she said.

Further, a lack of electricity is costing Africa about 2% of its gross domestic product and, therefore, presents significant opportunities for decentralised and smart energy systems, she added.

“We accelerate solutions by providing financial support to derisk the development, demonstration and deployment of solutions. Improving innovation improves lives and we want to build a network of strategic partners to commercialise new technologies and business models,” Flynn said.

Early-stage funding will be for feasibility, providing up to £530 000, and applications must be led by small and medium-sized enterprises or technology research organisations.

Mid-stage funding will provide £50 000 to £1.5-million over 12 to 24 months and eligible projects must be collaborative and must be led by a business, with some work done in the eligible countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and applicants must partner with an international organisation in the country of operations, she said.

“Late-stage funding will provide £50 000 to £5-million over 12 to 36 months and eligible projects must involve collaboration and must demonstrate their positive impact, and projects must also partner with an international entity in the country required,” said Flynn.

The six-year programme will fund small, medium-sized and microenterprises, universities, research institutions, universities and research and technology organisations, as well as public sector research agencies and research councils.

During a hybrid virtual launch event on June 27, rural and off-grid electrification company Zonke Energy technical director Alex Densmore advised prospective applicants to ensure they budget for compliance requirements and that there were stringent requirements, as the funding was from a UK government agency.

Zonke Energy had participated in a previous Innovate UK funding round.

However, he praised the Innovate UK team’s dedication and support, highlighting the ongoing support, in addition to funding, that the programme provides, which was “hugely beneficial for us in building our financial model and business plan”.

“[The support] was critical for us to put something in front of investors that we thought was worthy. We erect solar photovoltaic towers that provide low-voltage power for up to 16 houses for applications ranging from device charging to refrigeration. The Energy Catalyst Africa programme helped us to develop a solid business model and plan,” he said.

Applicants to the programme must identify and eventually demonstrate their positive social impact, and Zonke, which erects the towers within private properties in informal settlements, found that refrigeration presented a strong business case for users in these settlements.

Further, he advised applicants to note that grant funding from the programme is paid out every three months, and that applicants must be conscious of and carefully manage their cash flow, as well as requiring sufficient resources to cover expenses prior to receiving the first tranche of funding.

“For us as Zonke Energy, the process was a positive experience and the programme helped us to get off the ground and develop a prototype to present to investors. We have demonstrated that we are making progress in terms of our social impact, and the programme provides great ongoing support and useful connections to other players in the energy sector, or relevant potential partners, to address the wider market and thereby ensure a greater positive impact,” he said.

This news was originally published by Engineering News.