Free Electrons call now open for clean energy start-ups

21 Jan 2021

Image: © lovelyday12/

Start-ups in the 2021 Free Electrons programme will gain access to global mentors and be in the running for $200,000 in funding.

Energy start-ups in Ireland being called to apply for a global accelerator programme sponsored by ESB and eight other international utility companies. Called Free Electrons, the programme will take place over seven months and will offer mentorship and access to companies with a direct-market channel of 70m customers in 40 countries.

The programme is looking for start-ups that have developed low-carbon enabling technologies and customer-friendly services to accelerate the adoption of clean energy.

Depending on Covid-19 restrictions, ESB said that a combination of physical and virtual offerings will be available on this year’s programme.

The winning start-up will receive $200,000 as well as the opportunity to bring its product or service to the international market. Ireland has been chosen to host this year’s final, which is planned for November.

How Free Electrons works

From the companies that apply to the Free Electrons programme, 30 will be chosen to attend an initial bootcamp event in May. This has been planned to take place in Dubai but may move online due to the pandemic.

After the bootcamp, 15 start-ups will be selected to take part in mini modules in Lisbon and Hong Kong. These modules are comprised of one-to-ones and structured group sessions with the sponsor utilities, local accelerators and mentors. The aim is for start-ups to refine their value proposition, trial and test technology, and gain access to advice and support.

Along with ESB, sponsor utilities include American Electric Power, Energias de Portugal, Singapore Power and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings.

The 2020 programme received more than 850 applications from 86 countries. Since its launch in 2017, Free Electrons has led to €50m being signed in commercial deals.

Ireland’s success

ESB signed three pilot projects through last year’s programme, working with UK start-up Ripple Energy, German company Polytech and Portugal’s Tesselo.

Seven start-ups from Ireland have attended Free Electrons bootcamps or mini modules to date, including Carlow’s Xenotta, Dublin’s GridBeyond and Waterford’s Sedicii. In 2018, Limerick start-up Gridwatch made it to the top 15.

ESB innovation manager Denis O’Leary encouraged Irish start-ups to apply this year. “The Free Electrons programme offers us the opportunity to work with the world’s best start-ups and, in turn, helps them refine and create customer and industry-focused energy solutions.

“As a founding member of this initiative, ESB is proud to once again host a module event later this year where we can showcase the best of Irish innovation and industry. I encourage all energy start-ups to apply for this programme and we look forward to working with them on this exciting journey.”

Applications for the 2021 Free Electrons programme close on Sunday 28 March. Find out more here.

Lisa Ardill was careers editor at Silicon Republic until June 2021