New Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize Launches

The $2.5 Million Prize Will Help Enable a Just and Equitable Transition to a Clean Energy Economy

Sept. 30, 2021

Cartoon of renewable energy around a city next to the prize name
To help achieve ambitious goals to address climate change, the U.S. Department of Energy has launched the new, $2.5 million Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize, which will fund up to 10 winners to pave the way to an inclusive, equitable, and just energy future.

Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) announced the launch of the Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize, which aims to pave the way to an inclusive, equitable, and just energy future.

The Biden administration has set ambitious goals to address climate change through a just and equitable transition to economywide net-zero emissions by 2050. At the same time, the administration’s Justice40 Initiative promises 40% of relevant federal investments in climate and energy will benefit disadvantaged communities. To help achieve both goals, the new, $2.5 million Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize will fund organizations working with disadvantaged communities in clean energy as well as foster connections between DOE and innovators the agency has yet to reach.

The prize, an American-Made Challenges program, receives support from NREL and DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Office of Economic Impact and Diversity.

In support of the clean energy innovation ecosystem—which relies on funding from government agencies, academic institutions, nonprofit organizations, and private companies to fuel innovators and entrepreneurs—this program is working to enhance the accessibility of funding opportunities to a broader pool of applicants. Now, through the Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize, NREL and DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Office of Economic Impact and Diversity are helping to address imbalances, eliminate structural barriers to DOE funding, and attract and support a more inclusive ecosystem of innovators who offer novel perspectives for accelerating clean energy technology development.

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Eligible applicants include nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations; state, local, and tribal governments and government entities; for-profit companies; and academic institutions with experience in supporting environmental, climate, and energy justice. The prize will support, create, and identify activities that provide incubation, acceleration, and community-based entrepreneurship and innovation services in climate and clean energy technologies.

In addition, the prize aims to achieve five critical goals:

  • Enable clean energy and climate innovation, and entrepreneurship programming and capabilities, at colleges and universities that serve large populations of students underrepresented in STEM, minority-serving institutions, community colleges, and undergraduate institutions.
  • Create or increase participation in clean energy and climate-smart job training and job placement/hiring, including programs that target participation from disadvantaged communities, such as formerly incarcerated individuals and youth transitioning out of foster care. Workforce training could cover identifying energy efficiencies and greenhouse gas inventories, renewable energy manufacturing, and deployment.
  • Foster grassroots innovation related to just and equitable clean energy deployment through activities focusing on community-centric networks and bottom-up solutions for sustainable development, based on the needs of the communities involved. 
  • Identify and fund activities that will help disadvantaged communities become aware of, apply into, or otherwise secure DOE funding or other federal, state, local government, or private (for-profit or nonprofit) funding, in support of the government’s Justice40 goals.
  • Enable the development of replicable clean energy transitions that deliver just and equitable benefits to disadvantaged communities in support of the government’s Justice40 goals.

Teams need not have a scientific or engineering background to compete in the prize. DOE seeks to support grassroots organizations working on climate and clean energy technology solutions that focus on enabling a just and equitable transition to a clean energy economy. Novel state or local policies, for example, are critical to enabling the success of the clean energy transition, especially in disadvantaged communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change.

In Phase One, up to 10 winners will receive an initial cash prize of up to $200,000 each, with the opportunity to receive additional awards. Winners from Phase One will receive in-kind mentorship and other support services to ensure their success. In Phase Two, up to three teams will be awarded cash prizes from a prize pool of $500,000. The prize is open for submissions for Phase One through Feb. 25, 2022.

Learn more about the prize and how to get involved.