Innovate UK KTN and Energy Catalyst trailblaze platforms to accelerate energy solutions in South Africa

Posted on: 28/07/2022

The Energy Catalyst’s launch and brokerage event that took place in South Africa on 27 June saw energy sectors come together to develop sustainable energy solutions, thus improving the lives of South Africans.

South Africa’s energy supply is dominated by coal, which made up 65% of the primary energy supply in 2018, followed by crude oil with 18% and renewables with 11%. According to the South African Energy sector report for 2021, natural gas contributed to 3%, while nuclear contributed 2% to the total primary supply during the same period1. In a bid to improve the lives of Africans, through the improvement of the energy sector, innovators are constantly looking for solutions to save energy.

Hosted by Innovate UK KTN, the event aimed to help early- to late-stage innovators develop market-based technologies and business models that accelerate access to clean, modern and affordable energy in Africa, Asia and the Indo-Pacific regions. Energy Catalyst is an Innovate UK programme with co-funding from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Global Challenges Research Fund, the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The programme accelerates the innovation needed to develop sustainable energy solutions, through financial and advisory support, and by building strategic partnerships and uncovering new insights, such as introducing South Africa’s local energy ecosystem to opportunities within the UK.

Industry stakeholders who were in attendance included key players in South Africa’s energy sector from the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), the Industrial Development Corporation, the Energy & Water Sector Education Training Authority and BioCiTi Labs. Other attendants were notably from South Africa’s renewable energy industry, government, energy startups and innovation hubs.

Deputy Director for Hydrogen & Energy at the DSI, Mandy Mlilo says;

The National Development Plan has identified science, technology and innovation as primary drivers of economic growth, job creation and socio-economic reform. Drawing from this plan, the DSI drafted the white paper on science, technology and innovation which emphasises the core themes of inclusivity, transformation and partnerships with the national system of innovation.

This is more of an updated response to expanding the role that science, technology and innovation can play in addressing challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

Established by the DSI, the Technology Innovation Agency’s mandate is to support the state in stimulating and intensifying technological innovations in order to improve economic growth and quality of life for all South Africans by supporting the development and exportation of technology innovations.

Head of the Energy Investment Unit at the Technology Innovation Agency, Elijah Mokhethi says:

As we implement our mandate, we see ourselves playing roles such as being a connector, where we catalyse partnerships between Small and medium-sized enterprises, industries and universities in the science councils. We also provide risk funding and support for innovators to take ideas to market-ready technologies.

The knowledge-sharing, which was joint both virtually and physically, created a platform for energy innovators to connect, create relationships and collaborate with various industry role players. To date, Innovate UK KTN has over 46,000 connections and networking platforms. Operating in over 30 countries, Innovate UK KTN has a reach beyond the UK; it has global and European programmes. South Africa is a part of both the global and European programmes, allowing for a wide range of opportunities for energy innovators to end energy poverty and improve the lives of people.

At least 10% (4.4 million people) of South Africa’s population live in informal urban settlements and approximately 1.5 million people in these settlements are without grid electricity. Energy use in these settlements remains limited to paraffin, wood, plastic, and dangerous illegal connections to the grid, which often pose health and safety threats to residents. In a bid to provide clean, affordable, and reliable microgrid electricity to informal settlement communities in Cape Town, South Africa, Fiscal and tactical support from Energy Catalyst enabled Zonke Energy, a South African company, to improve on metering hardware and software, business modelling, and site selection in informal settlements. This allows South Africans to have access to environmentally friendly, safer, and cheaper energy compared to paraffin, petrol-powered generators, and other forms of dangerous or harmful fuels.

We use our ability to future-shape innovation in communities, but above all, we put a positive change to create a diverse and positive impact, and that’s our mission for the next few years,

Knowledge Transfer Manager at Global Alliance Africa, Marisa Naidoo, concludes.


About Energy Catalyst

Energy Catalyst is an Innovate UK programme with funding provided through the UK’s Ayrton Fund, part of the UK’s International Climate Finance commitment, which includes investment from the Foreign Commonwealth Development Office (FCDO), as part of the Transforming Energy Access (TEA) Platform, and the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Since it started in 2014, it has invested more than £60 million in over 360 projects. Energy Catalyst works with a range of partner organisations to build collaborations between organisations applying to Energy Catalyst and guide organisations looking to understand energy access issues and potential markets. This includes a virtual marketplace, webinars that explore project opportunities and facilitating introductions between organisations from the United Kingdom and organisations based in sub-Saharan Africa.

For more information about the programme, please visit

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Global Alliance Africa

Global Alliance Africa

This Innovate UK Global Alliance Africa 6-year (2019-2025) project funded by UK International Development aims to build new and stronger UK-African partnerships to maximise the creation of inclusive market access, funding and investment opportunities through innovation knowledge transfer between the UK, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.


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