Energy for Tomorrow – Championing Energy Innovation Despite COVID-19
How this new fund is thriving in spite of current limitations.
Today’s society faces a significant energy challenge. As the climate crisis grows in severity, and net-zero obligations remain largely in place, traditional energy solutions are no longer enough. Rather, to drive the necessary reduction in fossil fuels, cultivating a sustainable energy mix has become essential, and creativity and innovation more important than ever.
This is an ideology that lies at the heart of Centrica’s pioneering Energy for Tomorrow (EfT) fund. This new grant scheme, which launched earlier this year, provides up to ten organisations with the opportunity to secure between £100,000 to £500,000 to develop their proposed ideas, supporting energy innovation despite current economic, and logistical limitations.
Through this program, EfT hopes to build a better society, delivering affordable, accessible and reliable clean energy, alongside positive social impact.
In an interview with CleanTech News, Program Manager Sarah Wright tells us more.
Motivations & goals
“The fund was set up originally and has still has a mission of tackling climate change, but to do that with a social impact.” Wright begins.
“We started off as a corporate responsibility solar panel project where we installed solar panels onto the rooves of around 260 schools throughout the UK. That was at a time when solar panels were the newest technology…the schools benefit from the electricity they generate, there was a CO2 reduction because of what they were saving, and Energy for Tomorrow received the feeding tariff that was generated from those panel systems.”
The solar panels continue to save each school almost £2,500 each year, collectively offsetting 1.5 tonnes of CO2.
“That became our revenue,” Wright continues “and we use that to award the grants to the entrepreneurs and the start-ups that have energy-related propositions and can demonstrate that social impact.”
In addition to this inaugural solar panel project, 2020 marks the end of the pioneering Cornwall Local Energy Market, to which EfT awarded £2 million in 2018. Alongside a £13 million grant from the European Regional Development Fund, this project supported the installation of new solar generation and storage units to over 150 homes and businesses in the area, testing the role of flexible demand through a new virtual marketplace with the hopes of driving down household bills.
With research to conclude this year, the project has been a resounding success, demonstrating the potential of innovation to reduce environmental impact, and cost at the same time.
Applications & the impact of COVID-19
Having launched amongst the COVID chaos, EfT could easily have become another casualty of the pandemic. However, this could be further from the case.
“We’ve had a fantastic response for applications, and our deadline is next Friday so we still have a week to go, and we have 80 applications already,” Wright says.
“We put a very broad theme around the call for applications which was energy solutions to make people’s lives easier and more sustainable,” she goes on to explain. This includes initiatives that relate to energy efficiency and affordability, as well as those that focus on community energy projects in general.
However, although the fund centres around energy solutions, Wright stresses EfT encourages breadth, including a unique ‘wild card’ category to submissions.
She explains that “being a new fund people don’t really know who we are, and what we’re trying to achieve. We’re obviously trying to focus on our theme, but we don’t want to miss anything – so the purpose of the wild card was really to find out what else was on the market place…that could perhaps shape our next initiative.”
When asked about the focal areas that have emerged in applications so far, Wright details that alongside ‘standard’ applications:
“We’re seeing that the current COVID situation is making people think a little more outside the box of what perhaps cleantech and sustainability is, and trying to add that in to take into account the current situation.”
Examples include an incubator program for furloughed or unemployed energy workers, and the addition of virus detection layers to energy monitoring systems.
Alongside these COVID-19 focuses, other areas of note include energy from waste, energy retrofits, and hydrogen applications, with many sharing common threads of accessibility.
“I think there is a lot of focus as well in the apps we’ve seen in making renewable energy measures accessible to all,” Wright says.
Using the example of solar panels as a technology with a large capital outlay, Wright explains that “we’ve had applications looking at how you could tie in your mortgage with your green measures, and with your energy savings,” allowing access to these technologies where cost would have once made that impossible.
The importance of diversity
In addition to its core focus on sustainable energy solutions, a unique aspect of this fund is its admirable focus on diversity.
“I think diversity is really important to get in the different viewpoints, different experiences, and different ways of looking at challenges,” Wright explains, detailing that the proportion of female or minority founders at present is “pitifully low”.
“I think it’s one penny in every pound is given to female founders,” she estimates, supported by recent findings from Beauhurst that revealed 91% of all venture capital investment in the UK is raised by companies with all-male founding teams.
“But when you look on the flip side of that and look at the productivity, its 10% better with female-founded startups, and through general diversity, it can have a 19% productivity increase in innovation revenue. So, the figures are there to support what we’re focusing on, and it’s just about having that vehicle for funding everybody across the board.” Wright concludes.
With the deadline for applications this Friday the 29th of May, CleanTech News is excited to see the future directions of this fund, and the pioneering initiatives it supports.
For more information about this year’s applications, please click here.