Clean energy grants have become a hot topic of discussion in the startup world. In recent years, U.S. entrepreneurs and small businesses have developed remarkable clean energy technologies that hold great promise to broaden utilization of renewable energy. Particularly during the early stages, development and commercialization of these innovative green energy technologies is a high-risk endeavor. This makes it difficult for clean energy startups to attract outside investors. To fill this funding gap, the U.S. federal government offers grants to support research, development and commercialization of cutting edge clean energy technologies.
And unlike most government grant programs, a great number of these grant opportunities are open to small businesses. For startups and early-stage firms, the fact that government grants are non-diluting is an important benefit.
As most grant programs result in only a limited number of awards, the competition for renewable energy grants is fierce, to say the least. For each grant competition, the government receives hundreds—sometimes thousands—of grant proposals, all of which are competing for the same pool of dollars. On average, only about 3 to 5 percent of clean energy grant proposals submitted are funded.
Over the course of my career I have secured millions in funding to support research, development and commercialization of a wide array of exciting renewable energy technologies. And because of my expertise, public and private sector funders frequently call on me to help them determine which organizations and projects should get funded. In this capacity, I have either led or been part of, the decision-making teams that have awarded more than $1 billion in funding over the last five years.
Based on my own experiences and discussions with other funding decision-makers, I’ve gathered some tips for writing a clean energy grant proposal:
Get prepared well ahead of the deadline
This is the single most common mistake people make when applying for clean energy grants. They wait until a week—or sometimes just several days—before the deadline and then get started. Once the project is underway they realize that the proposal development process is far more complicated than they had anticipated. Funders require clear plans, detailed technical information, specific objectives, timelines and more. They also require letters of support, budgets, memorandums of understanding and other attachments. It takes time to properly develop these elements and gather all the attachments. There are also required registrations to consider too. Before applying for a grant, applicants need to have their federal tax identification number, a DUNS number, register in SAM.gov system and register in the grant submission portal such as grants.gov or https://eere-exchange.energy.gov/. Completing these registrations can take weeks. Bottom line – don’t wait to start the process. Complete the registrations now and start developing your proposal the moment the funding opportunity is released.
Follow the directions
Many grant proposals don’t get funded because the applicant didn’t follow the directions. Either they didn’t include a required attachment, skipped questions entirely or supplied the wrong information. The review or evaluation criteria used to make funding determinations is often ambiguous or difficult to understand. It often takes time figure out the exact response the reviewers want to see. Don’t let this happen to you—read the directions, read them again and most importantly, follow them exactly.
Tie your technical objectives to the program priorities
Not clearly tying the proposal’s technical objectives to the program funding priorities or areas of interest is another common mistake among proposal writers. Every funding program has specific priorities or areas of interest. In all cases, only those proposals that clearly align the proposed technical objectives to the funding program’s priorities or areas of interest get funded. Nonetheless, many companies believe that their technology is so amazing that they can win over the reviewers even if the concept is outside the scope of the program’s interests. But with 100% certainty, I can tell you that this doesn’t happen. If your technology or technical objectives do not clearly align to the funding program’s priorities or areas of interest, then you should not apply. To do so would be nothing more than a waste of time and resources.
It’s not all about the technology
Governmental funding agencies look at clean energy grant proposals in much the same way that investors do. In other words, they don’t want to invest in a project that doesn’t have a very high likelihood of success. All too often, I see energy companies placing too much emphasis on discussing their technology and not enough on the other aspects of the project that will successfully bring the concept to market. Some of these often-overlooked elements include:
- Clear description of the resources on-hand and those required to carry out the proposed project activities.
- Discussion of the proposed commercialization plan or pathway to commercialization
- Identification of the performance metrics (e.g., cost per kWh or other funder-mandated metric) or and strategies for measuring and reporting their attainment.
- Demonstration of the capacity of the team to not only carry out the proposed project, but to execute the steps necessary to commercialize the technology.
Focus on your budget
Failure to provide a well-developed budget is another common mistake that prevents many clean energy grants from getting funded. A strong budget details the cost basis for proposed and expenses and ties each line item to the technical objectives. To do this properly requires time so don’t wait to get started on your budget.
Securing funding to develop or demonstrate innovative renewable energy technologies is a difficult and challenging process. And regardless of whether you’re seeking investors or grants, the competition for dollars is stiff. Follow these tips and you will go a long way towards ensuring that your clean energy grant proposal is one of the projects that lands at the top of the ‘funded proposals’ pile.