Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: The UKRI Ayrton challenge programme (outlines)

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Apply for funding for interdisciplinary, challenge-led research projects enabling the transition to low carbon energy in developing countries.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) will fund around 10 projects between £2 to £3 million for up to three years. 80% of the full economic costs (FEC) will be available for the UK component of each project. Partners in countries on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) list will be funded at 100% of FEC.

Who can apply

Before applying for funding, check the Eligibility of your organisation.

UKRI has introduced new role types for funding opportunities being run on the new UKRI Funding Service.

For full details, visit Eligibility as an individual.

Who is eligible to apply

The project lead (PL) must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for UKRI funding and must be eligible to hold UKRI grants and be from:

  • a UK higher education institution
  • a research council institute
  • an independent research organisation eligible for UKRI funding

International partnership

Proposals must be co-designed and delivered in equitable partnerships with “in-country” researchers – who should be included as project co-lead (international) (PcL (I)). PcL (I)’s must be based in a country on the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) list of Official Development Assistance (ODA) recipient countries. The strength and equitability of this partnership will be assessed at the outline stage.

Who is not eligible to apply

India and China are key and longstanding research partners for the UK in developing low carbon technology. These partnerships are central to UKRI’s ambitions for Net Zero. Ongoing and close partnerships are supported between researchers in these countries by current and upcoming programmes. Due to these existing opportunities, Ayrton challenge programme applications must not include researchers and partners based in either India or China and must not list these countries as beneficiaries.

Equality, diversity and inclusion

The Ayrton challenge programme will adopt inclusivity, equitability and gender equality as core principles.

We are committed to achieving equality of opportunity for all funding applicants. We encourage applications from a diverse range of researchers.

We support people to work in a way that suits their personal circumstances. This includes:

  • career breaks
  • support for people with caring responsibilities
  • flexible working
  • alternative working patterns

Find out more about equality, diversity and inclusion at UKRI.

What we're looking for

Aim

Through the Ayrton challenge programme, UKRI seeks to help drive forward the clean energy transition in developing countries and deliver real change in clean and just energy for the world’s poorest.

Objectives

The Ayrton challenge programme will be centred on the delivery of impact with proposals expected to have clear plans for the transition of research to implementation in developing countries.

The funding objectives are to:

  • deliver a programme of high quality, interdisciplinary research related to the Ayrton themes of Low Carbon Supplies, Super-Efficient Demand, and Smart Delivery
  • deliver tangible and sustainable benefits to the welfare of people living in beneficiary countries that drives forward the Global South energy justice research agenda, making progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) and 13 (Climate Action)
  • foster engagement with diverse and relevant partners in developing countries and in the UK to ensure that research is co-created, co-designed and co-delivered with stakeholders, researchers and users
  • embed equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) within both research activities and operations, including clear consideration for specific EDI context and challenges within the proposed research areas, stakeholders and community

Scope

The Ayrton challenge programme will deliver a portfolio of research to drive forward the clean energy transition in developing countries by funding both the development of innovative technologies and the knowledge needed to enable delivery of long-term sustainable change in developing countries.

This funding opportunity is part of the Ayrton Fund, a UK government commitment of up to £1 billion that aims to accelerate the clean energy transition in developing countries, by creating and demonstrating innovative clean energy technologies.

Work funded will span the Ayrton Fund themes:

  • Low carbon supplies: future energy systems enable an opportunity for further reductions in deployment costs and tariffs will help displace the case for additional unabated fossil fuel generation on and off the grid.
    This theme will include the specific challenge areas:

    • next generation solar
    • zero-emissions generators
  • Super-efficient demand: responding to development in electrification and digitisation in many sectors, including in areas such as electric cookstoves, household appliances and industrial equipment highlights a number of opportunities to lower carbon demand. This theme will include the specific challenge areas:
    • sustainable cooling for all
    • modern cooking services
    • energy efficiency
    • industrial decarbonisation
    • clean transport
  • Smart delivery: smart systems present an opportunity to improve the interface between demand and sources of clean energy such as energy storage technologies, demand-side interventions (including solutions to facilitate behaviour change) smart grids, the hydrogen economy, critical minerals, and long-distance transmission. This theme will include the specific challenge areas:
    • smart energy systems
    • energy storage
    • inclusive energy & leave no-one behind
    • clean hydrogen
    • critical minerals

Projects must focus on one or more of these themes and make clear in the project vision how the research will yield a step change in one or more of the specific challenges.

Duration

The duration of this award is three years.

Projects must start by 1 January 2025 with no slippage allowed.

Funding available

UKRI will fund of around 10 projects between £2 million and £3 million for up to three years.

80% of the full economic costs will be available for the UK component of each project. Overseas costs for research partners in countries on the DAC list of Official Development Assistance (ODA) recipient countries will be funded at 100% of full economic cost.

What we will fund

Successful research projects will be challenge-focused and interdisciplinary, working to deliver complete solutions capable of providing the answers needed to enable real world change. To tackle the Ayrton challenges the projects should bring together a breadth of expertise from both the UK and beneficiary countries, including research collaborators, delivery partners and stakeholders. Successful awards must be co-created, co-designed and co-delivered and underpinned by inclusive and equitable partnerships.

Awards will drive forward the clean energy transition in terms of the low carbon energy research agenda, while strongly grounding the projects in the research needs and local context of beneficiary countries. The projects should focus on an outcome delivery, contributing towards meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) or 13 (Climate Action) and lead to climate change mitigation and solutions to energy inequity in developing countries.

Work funded will span the Ayrton themes and projects should be clear in their route to tackling the Ayrton Fund challenges. The Ayrton Fund in its totality represents a much larger ecosystem than what is being funded through this funding opportunity, and therefore successful awards will be expected to engage with other Ayrton Fund platforms and programmes throughout their lifecycle to leverage developments and further enhance and enable routes to impact.

To see some other initiatives, partnerships and projects funded by the wider Ayrton Fund see the Ayrton Explorer Tool.

For more information on the background of this funding opportunity, go to the Additional information section.

International collaboration requirements

The projects should bring together the right people and organisations, both from beneficiary countries and from the UK to tackle the challenges including research collaborators, delivery partners and stakeholders, for example: academics, businesses and research users, government and other policy makers, third sector organisations and NGOs, and community groups.

The minimum requirement is for one collaborating project co-lead to be based in a country on the OECD DAC list of ODA recipient countries. Equitable partnerships will be a cornerstone of the programme and projects will require genuine and substantive equitable partnerships to co-deliver the work, with a strong ethos of co-creation with the communities that stand to benefit from the work.

Successful bids will be expected to conduct stakeholder engagement en route to the development of research programmes, incorporating local community engagement, equitable project co-design and grounding in societal context.

Funded programmes should deliver inclusive and sustainable development, developing holistic solutions to real challenges facing those living in developing countries.

The strength and equitability of this partnership will be assessed at outline.

Learn more about equitable partnerships.

Visit UKRI’s trusted research and innovation for more information on effective international collaboration.

Find out about getting funding for international collaboration.

Costs attributed to international project co-leads (PcL (I)) from developed countries (those not on the OECD DAC list of ODA recipients) must not exceed 30% of the full economic cost grant value. There is no cap on eligible funds going to PcL (I)’s from DAC list countries.

Learn about the costs you can apply for.

ODA compliance

This programme will form part of the UK’s ODA, as defined by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

When applying to this funding opportunity it is important that you ensure your application is ODA compliant. It must be clear how the application is ODA eligible as defined by “administered with the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries as its main objective”.

What we will not fund

Ayrton challenge programme applications must not include researchers or partners based in either India or China and must not list these countries as beneficiaries.

Single items of equipment above a value of £10,000 are not permitted.

How to apply

We are running this funding opportunity on the new UKRI Funding Service. You cannot apply on the Joint Electronic Submissions (Je-S) system.

The project lead is responsible for completing the application process on the Funding Service, but we expect all team members and project partners to contribute to the application.

Only the lead research organisation can submit an application to UKRI.

To apply

Select ‘Start application’ near the beginning of this Funding finder page.

  1. Confirm you are the project lead.
  2. Sign in or create a Funding Service account. To create an account, select your organisation, verify your email address, and set a password. If your organisation is not listed, email support@funding-service.ukri.org
    Please allow at least 10 working days for your organisation to be added to the Funding Service.
  3. Answer questions directly in the text boxes. You can save your answers and come back to complete them or work offline and return to copy and paste your answers. If we need you to upload a document, follow the upload instructions in the Funding Service. All questions and assessment criteria are listed in the How to apply section on this Funding finder page.
  4. Allow enough time to check your application in ‘read-only’ view before sending to your research office.
  5. Send the completed application to your research office for checking. They will return it to you if it needs editing.
  6. Your research office will submit the completed and checked application to UKRI.

Where indicated, you can also demonstrate elements of your responses in visual form if relevant. If using visual elements, you must:

  • use images sparingly and only to convey important information that cannot easily be put into words
  • insert each new image onto a new line
  • provide a descriptive legend for each image immediately underneath it (this counts towards your word limit)
  • files must be smaller than 5MB and in JPEG, JPG, JPE, JFI, JIF, JFIF, PNG, GIF, BMP or WEBP format

Watch our research office webinars about the new Funding Service.

For more guidance on the Funding Service, see:

Deadline

UKRI must receive your application by 9 April 2024 at 4.00pm UK time.

You will not be able to apply after this time.

Make sure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines.

Following the submission of your application to the funding opportunity, your application cannot be changed, and applications will not be returned for amendment. If your application does not follow the guidance, it may be rejected.

Personal data

Processing personal data

UKRI will need to collect some personal information to manage your UKRI Funding Service account and the registration of your funding applications.

We will handle personal data in line with UK data protection legislation and manage it securely. For more information, including how to exercise your rights, read our privacy notice.

Publication of outcomes

If your application is successful, we will publish some personal information on the UKRI Gateway to Research.

Summary

Word limit: 550

In plain English, provide a summary we can use to identify the most suitable experts to assess your application.

We may make this summary publicly available on external-facing websites, so make it suitable for a variety of readers, for example:

  • opinion-formers
  • policymakers
  • the public
  • the wider research community

Guidance for writing a summary

Clearly describe your proposed work in terms of:

  • context
  • the challenge the project addresses
  • aims and objectives
  • potential applications and benefits

Within your summary please list the Ayrton themes and challenges your project will address.

Core team

List the key members of your team and assign them roles from the following:

  • project lead (PL)
  • project co-lead (UK) (PcL)
  • project co-lead (international) (PcL (I))
  • researcher co-lead (RcL)
  • specialist
  • grant manager
  • professional enabling staff
  • research and innovation associate
  • technician
  • visiting researcher

Only list one individual as project lead.

Find out more about UKRI’s core team roles in funding applications.

Application questions

Vision

Word limit: 500

What are you hoping to achieve with your proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Explain how your proposed work:

  • is of excellent quality and importance within or beyond the fields or areas
  • has the potential to advance current understanding and generate new knowledge, thinking or discovery within or beyond the identified area of low energy technology
  • is grounded in the local context of the beneficiary country, and how research outcomes will address concerns of affordability and equitability of access
  • will make progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goals 7 and 13

Within the Vision section we also expect you to:

  • identify the specific Ayrton theme that your work will fall under, and the step change your work will lead to in the one or more specific challenges your project will tackle
  • identify the beneficiary country and the tangible and sustainable benefits your project will make to the welfare of people living in that country

You may demonstrate elements of your responses in visual form if relevant. Further details are provided in the Funding Service.

Approach

Word limit: 500

How are you going to deliver your proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Explain how you have designed your approach so that it:

  • is effective and appropriate to achieve your objectives
  • brings together the right interdisciplinary approaches to deliver complete real-world solutions
  • has a clear plan for the realisation of sustainable development outcomes

Within the Approach section we also expect you to:

  • identify the engagement and co-creation and co-design that has taken place with communities and stakeholders in the beneficiary country.

You may demonstrate elements of your responses in visual form if relevant. Further details are provided in the Funding Service.

Applicant and team capability to deliver

Word limit: 500

Why are you the right individual or team to successfully deliver the proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Evidence of how you, and if relevant your team, have:

  • the right interdisciplinary balance of skills and expertise to cover the proposed work
  • included a range of suitable stakeholders and delivery partners necessary to ensure sustainable development and the adoption of technologies in the beneficiary country
  • will demonstrate the principles of equitable partnership, and embed inclusivity in the delivery of your research

You may demonstrate elements of your responses in visual form if relevant. Further details are provided in the Funding Service.

Showcase the range of relevant skills you and, if relevant, your team (project and project co-leads, researchers, technicians, specialists, partners and so on) have and how this will help deliver the proposed work.

UKRI has introduced new role types for funding opportunities being run on the new Funding Service.

For full details, see Eligibility as an individual.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

We will assess your application using the following process.

Panel

We will invite experts to use the evidence provided by your outline application to assess the quality of your application and rank it alongside other applications. The highest-ranking applications will then be invited to submit a full proposal.

The panel will make a judgement on the balance of coverage across the Ayrton programme challenges. Final decisions on invitations to submit a full proposal will be taken to ensure an appropriate coverage across the challenges.

You will have 10 weeks to develop a full proposal once outcomes of the outline stage have been delivered. You will be able to make changes to your outline proposal and add members of the team in your final application. The full proposals will then be assessed by a second expert panel, who will assess the quality of your application and rank it alongside other applications. The panel will make a funding recommendation.

UKRI will make the final funding decision.

Timescale

We aim to complete the outline assessment process within two months after the closing date.

Feedback

We will give feedback with the outcome of your application.

Principles of assessment

We support the San Francisco declaration on research assessment and recognise the relationship between research assessment and research integrity.

Find out about the UKRI principles of assessment and decision making.

We reserve the right to modify the assessment process as needed.

Assessment areas

The assessment areas we will use are:

  • vision
  • approach
  • applicant and team capability to deliver

Find details of assessment questions and criteria under the ‘Application questions’ heading in the ‘How to apply’ section.

Contact details

Get help with your application

If you have a question and the answers aren’t provided on this page

Important note: The Helpdesk is committed to helping users of the UKRI Funding Service as effectively and as quickly as possible. In order to manage cases at peak volume times, the Helpdesk will triage and prioritise those queries with an imminent opportunity deadline or a technical issue. Enquiries raised where information is available on the Funding Finder opportunity page and should be understood early in the application process (for example, regarding eligibility or content/remit of an opportunity) will not constitute a priority case and will be addressed as soon as possible.

Contact details

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

For questions related to this specific funding opportunity please contact: ayrtonfund@ukri.org

Any queries regarding the system or the submission of applications through the Funding Service should be directed to the helpdesk.

Email: support@funding-service.ukri.org
Phone: 01793 547490

Our phone lines are open:

  • Monday to Thursday 8:30am to 5:00pm
  • Friday 8:30am to 4:30pm

To help us process queries quicker, we request that users highlight the council and opportunity name in the subject title of their email query, include the application reference number, and refrain from contacting more than one mailbox at a time.

Find out more information on submitting an application.

Sensitive information

If you or a core team member need to tell us something you wish to remain confidential, email the Funding Service helpdesk on support@funding-service.ukri.org

Include in the subject line: [the funding opportunity title; sensitive information; your Funding Service application number].

Typical examples of confidential information include:

  • individual is unavailable until a certain date (for example due to parental leave)
  • declaration of interest
  • additional information about eligibility to apply that would not be appropriately shared in the ‘Applicant and team capability’ section
  • conflict of interest for UKRI to consider in reviewer or panel participant selection
  • the application is an invited resubmission

For information about how UKRI handles personal data, read UKRI’s privacy notice.

Additional info

Background

The Ayrton Fund is a UK government commitment of up to £1 billion that aims to accelerate the clean energy transition in developing countries, by creating and demonstrating innovative clean energy technologies and business models. It will demonstrate UK leadership and expertise in cutting global emissions through world-leading innovations.

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) jointly manage the Ayrton Fund. They do this through a portfolio of ongoing, new, and scaled-up clean energy platforms and programmes, including thematic challenge programmes and country and regional demonstrators.

UKRI’s Ayrton challenge programme is one activity within the UK government’s Ayrton portfolio.

To see some other initiatives, partnerships and projects funded by the wider Ayrton Fund see the Ayrton Explorer Tool.

Low energy transitions for developing countries

The global transition to low carbon energy is a task much greater than any one technological solution with many distinct issues specific to the unique setting in different countries. For example, variations in local infrastructure, industry, energy markets, urban environments, and access to energy for the poorest will all impact on the deployment of low carbon technology.

This programme is funded through the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget. This means that as its primary goal the proposed research must deliver international development and bring a direct societal benefit to those in developing countries. Projects should be grounded in the context of challenges facing communities and societies where benefit may be realised.

Progress will not be made without addressing inequalities in energy access and the interrelated challenges of energy use, food security, health and sustainable urban development, for example. Research projects are expected to work to build new understanding of societal context, including gender equality, social inclusion and poverty alleviation.

Effective solutions to the Ayrton challenges will require both the technical solutions, as well as social and political transitions. Research funded through the Ayrton challenge programme will be expected to make progress on achieving the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) and 13 (Climate Action).

ODA compliance and gender equality

The Ayrton Fund is part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA). Its aim is to support cutting-edge research that addresses challenges faced by developing countries.

The research organisation must ensure the research that is undertaken as part of this grant is compliant with ODA rules and regulations as set out by the OECD. In the event that the research is deemed to no longer comply with ODA rules and regulations the research councils reserve the right to terminate the grant and recover funds spent on non-ODA compliant activities.

Find out more about ODA guidance.

Gender equality statements will be mandatory for all applications at the full stage submission. This statement must outline how applicants have taken meaningful yet proportionate consideration as to how the project will contribute to reducing gender inequalities, as required under the International Development (Gender Equality) Act. We expect applicants to consider how their project will address this criteria throughout all stages of the application process but are not required to submit this statement at the outline stage.

Webinar for potential applicants

We will hold a webinar on 22 February 2024, from 10:00am to midday. This will provide more information about the funding opportunity and a chance to ask questions.

Register for the webinar

Research disruption due to COVID-19

We recognise that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused major interruptions and disruptions across our communities. We are committed to ensuring that individual applicants and their wider team, including partners and networks, are not penalised for any disruption to their career, such as:

  • breaks and delays
  • disruptive working patterns and conditions
  • the loss of ongoing work
  • role changes that may have been caused by the pandemic

Reviewers and panel members will be advised to consider the unequal impacts that COVID-19 related disruption might have had on the capability to deliver and career development of those individuals included in the application. They will be asked to consider the capability of the applicant and their wider team to deliver the research they are proposing.

Where disruptions have occurred, you can highlight this within your application if you wish, but there is no requirement to detail the specific circumstances that caused the disruption.

Updates

  • 19 February 2024
    Added webinar registration link.
  • 7 February 2024
    Webinar date and timing added in Additional info section.

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