IEA (2022), EcoLabs-COI, IEA, Paris https://www.iea.org/articles/ecolabs-coi
Responsible government entity: Enterprise Singapore
External partner: Nanyang Technical University (NTU)
Target type of innovator: Recently incorporated companies ready for real-world pilot testing of energy technologies (technology readiness level [TRL] 7+), and also some TRL 4 innovators
- The EcoLabs Centre of Innovation for Energy (EcoLabs-COI) focuses on collaborations that can help energy technology developers to explore commercial opportunities, and has established an international network of accessible test beds in companies around the world.
- It includes support for business development and has developed in-house expertise to pair advisers with recipients.
- It has an international approach to finding markets for start-ups and working with overseas government agencies to partner with their equivalent programmes.
Summary of the types of support provided or enabled by the policy initiative
Type of support
Indirect: NTU and its partners are building a network of accessible test beds globally to pilot new technologies
Indirect: NTU and its partners are building a network of accessible test beds globally to pilot new technologies Indirect: Through the EcoLabs-COI Centre, NTU and its partners offer services including fundraising advice, connections to potential clients and access to consortium projects
Indirect: NTU and its partners facilitate international connections to other government programmes and provide exposure for recipients at events
Enterprise Singapore, NTU and the Sustainable Energy Association of Singapore (SEAS) jointly established EcoLabs-COI in 2019. Enterprise Singapore, overseen by the Ministry of Trade and Industry, funds NTU to host and run EcoLabs-COI. EcoLabs-COI aims to help Singapore-based energy start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that are applying cutting-edge scientific principles. EcoLabs-COI provides them with access to facilities and connections that can help technology developers to explore commercial opportunities. This includes access to R&D experts, lab infrastructure, test bed sites and business opportunities to help them successfully commercialise and scale up their technologies. To date it has focused on electrification, energy efficiency and digitalisation. In addition, in line with evolving government priorities and national strengths, EcoLabs-COI’s focus has expanded to include urban mobility, renewable integration, smart grids, CCUS and topics related to the so-called circular economy.
EcoLabs-COI has a permanently open call for applications for support. Start-ups from around the world can apply, as long as they have potential value to Singapore.
The awards are for defined projects and can include access to infrastructure for building and testing a technology or access to services for help with developing the commercial offering. For projects receiving infrastructure support, EcoLabs-COI has different options depending on the maturity and needs of the start-ups.
For early-stage start-ups, EcoLabs-COI can provide the access to NTU laboratories and facilities for prototyping and testing. Renewable Energy Integration Demonstrator – Singapore (REIDS) is its largest hybrid microgrid test bed. It accommodates various end-use technologies and tests flexibility requirements. It can be available to start-ups wanting to validate their energy storage, renewable integration or microgrid solutions.
For other start-ups, EcoLabs-COI has partnerships with more than 30 test beds in external organisations. These include shopping centres, educational institutions and manufacturing sites. The premises of the Carros Centre and car parks of 1923 Pte Ltd can be utilised, as well as the Experimental Power Grid Centre for EVs and electricity system integration and Punggol Social Innovation Park for autonomous robotic vehicles. Mistletoe incubator and JTC government infrastructure are partners for testing technologies within their remit of climate change solutions. Some of these test beds are overseas, including Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL) for buildings energy efficiency, electric mobility, smart cities technologies and internet-of-things applications.
Intellectual property (so-called joint foreground IP) generated as a result of EcoLabs-COI projects on new products and services is shared by the start-up and NTUitive. NTUitive supports the licensing of this co‑developed IP, including licensing it back to the start-up if it wishes to use it.
For projects receiving business and technical service support, EcoLabs-COI provides various types of in-kind assistance. These include pairing start-ups with a potential corporate customer to co‑operate on designing a project that EcoLabs-COI and the corporate entity can jointly support through corporate funds, and EcoLabs-COI’s access to infrastructure and services. The value of EcoLabs-COI’s in-kind contribution (a combination of infrastructure and services) can be approximately one-third to one-half of project costs.
EcoLabs-COI has dedicated in-house technical and business expertise and assigns recipients to one of seven business consultants. The consultants guide the development of a strong business model, help to position the product in the market, and advise on customer and supplier acquisition, as appropriate. EcoLabs-COI supports market research, assessment of technology novelty and feasibility analysis. If EcoLabs-COI does not have the necessary expertise, it works with SEAS to access it. EcoLabs-COI charges a nominal fee for access to innovation and commercialisation service providers outside its pool of expertise with which it has standing agreements.
EcoLabs-COI organises monthly pitch sessions for recipients with its group of private investors who are looking for high-potential start-ups.
EcoLabs-COI works with recipients to identify existing intellectual property or research at NTU that could benefit the start-up.
EcoLabs-COI also assists recipient start-ups and SMEs in applying for government grant funding opportunities, especially those from EcoLab’s sponsoring agency Enterprise Singapore. This service is for start-ups meeting the eligibility requirements for Enterprise Development Grants: being registered and operating in Singapore; having 30% local shareholding or more; and being in a financially viable position to start and complete the funded project.
EcoLabs-COI also supports the PowerACE EcoLabs-COI Special Award. The winners of the EcoLabs-COI Special Award in 2019 to 2021 each received a prize worth SGD 100 000 (Singapore dollars) (USD 75 000). This prize includes the equivalent value one year of EcoLabs-COI support services and access to infrastructure.
EcoLabs-COI also promotes recipients at relevant events and the media. This is a central part of the support provided to finalists of the EcoLabs-COI Special Award.
EcoLabs-COI in Singapore has developed practices to exchange expertise with overseas government agencies and educational institutions to give its own start-ups the best chance of overseas success. To exchange expertise, it works with Canada (High Commission), India, Korea (Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency [KOTRA]) and New Zealand (Ara Ake) to offer public-supported start-ups from those countries to receive on-the-ground incubation support in Singapore and assistance with access to nearby markets (a so-called “soft landing”).
To help with international market access, EcoLabs-COI has relationships with governments and companies in Germany, India, Israel, Korea, Norway, Chinese Taipei, the United Kingdom and the United States. A typical type of collaboration is to find a potential customer in one of these countries that can provide a test bed for a project in its commercial and regulatory environment. In several cases, this has led to joint project funding by two or more governments. It is also currently collaborating with the Korean trade commission to run a structured joint programme from 2022.
EcoLabs-COI tracks the progress of recipients and the overall programme using key performance indicators, including the number of recipients, the success of subsequent deployment and company valuation.
In three years, EcoLabs-COI has supported over 35 start-ups and SMEs in clean energy technology, a sector in which Singapore has not traditionally been a major player. It has over 30 test beds for pilot testing of different technologies and five non‑government funding partners.
Findings, according to staff and recipients:
- EcoLabs-COI is playing a valuable role in helping start-ups to secure contracts with international entities by creating connections and bringing the reputational benefit of government backing to the process.
- EcoLabs-COI’s attention to business development has helped start-ups with hiring and service aspects not covered by other Singaporean funds.
- The availability of energy-specific calls was welcomed by start-ups in the field that find themselves at a disadvantage in open economy-wide initiatives because of the long lead times and large funding requirements associated with energy hardware and the lack of energy market knowledge among evaluators.
- It has been valuable to have priority technology areas (initially, electrification, energy efficiency and digitalisation). However, this limited Singapore’s entry into growing global areas such as CCUS and hydrogen, which have now been integrated into EcoLabs-COI’s portfolio.
- Start-ups report that EcoLabs-COI has been successful in creating an ecosystem for clean energy technology innovation in Singapore that did not previously exist.
This publication has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union as part of the Clean Energy Transitions in Emerging Economies programme. This publication reflects the views of the International Energy Agency (IEA) Secretariat but does not necessarily reflect those of individual IEA member countries or the European Union (EU). Neither the IEA nor the EU make any representation of warranty, express or implied, in respect to the article's content (including its completeness or accuracy) and shall not be responsible for any use of, or reliance on, the publication.
The Clean Energy Transitions in Emerging Economies programme has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 952363.