Step 1: Finding A Solicitation
The California Energy Commission issues a variety of solicitations on their website. You can find and track them by visiting the funding page here: CEC Funding Opportunities
You will note that each listing has a different designation. They are typically structured in the following manner ABC-12-345. You can ignore the numbers for the most part, just be aware that the following three letter acronyms symbolize the following;
- GFO – Grant Funding Opportunity
- RFQ – Request for Qualification
- RFP – Request for Proposal
- PON – Program Opportunity Notice
- IFB – Invitations for Bid
As a startup you may want to focus on all of these. However, this guide deals with responding to GFO’s in particular. If you are looking to do business with the CEC in a contracting capacity, we work with an amazing partner who can help you streamline that process.
While finding the right solicitation may seem daunting, here are two great resources that the CEC has developed to help you identify the perfect project for you.
- The Solicitations Website – The CEC does a great job of publishing opportunities and organizing the information to be accessible to everyone.
- Empower Innovation – An online community connecting startups and project partners. Get timely leads on funding and new connections to accelerate your work and advance a clean economy for all.
The tools above can help you find the perfect project to lead or partner on. Partnering is a great way to get grant funding without having to become a lead applicant and take charge of the grant writing and management process yourself.
Every solicitation has a clearly defined eligibility criteria. Read a solicitation closely to understand if it is a good fit. Once you have analyzed the solicitation, be sure to attend (virtually) any pre-application workshops. These will give you agency contacts and networking opportunities, as well as an opportunity to ask any questions you may have.
Step 2: Getting Registered For GSS
The preferred method of delivery of most grant applications to CEC is via the Energy Commission Grant Solicitation System, available at: https://gss.energy.ca.gov/. This online tool allows applicants to submit their electronic documents to the CEC prior to the date and time specified in this solicitation.
Electronic files must be in Microsoft Word XP (.doc format) and Excel Office Suite formats unless originally provided in the solicitation in another format. (Pro Tip: Google Docs and Sheets will export to these formats if you don’t want to spend money on Microsoft Office) Attachments requiring signatures may be scanned and submitted in PDF format. Completed Budget Forms, Attachment 5, must be in Excel format. The system will not allow applications to be submitted after the application due date and time.
First time users must register as a new user to access the system. Applicants will receive a confirmation email after all required documents have been successfully uploaded. A tutorial of the system will be provided at the pre-application workshops and you may contact the Commission Agreement Officer identified in the Questions section of the solicitation for more assistance.
You can also access a tutorial of the system here: GSS How To Apply
Step 3: Responding To The Opportunity
Before writing a proposal you must first understand how it will be evaluated as the proposal that you submit, must be responsive to these criteria. All solicitations contain a section where the evaluation criteria are discussed – usually placed somewhere towards the end of the solicitation document.
The CEC also provides useful background information in their solicitations, typically near the beginning of the document. Leverage this to ensure that your narrative is compelling and relevant to the solicitation. Do your research to understand the goals and objectives of the solicitation and how they related to the larger agency goals and objectives.
By reading the evaluation criteria and background before you begin proposal preparation, you will understand those items that you must address thoroughly within your proposal. Successful applicants assess “win themes” based on the criteria. Careful examination surfaces gaps in your approach and allows companies to find a good fit. The graphic above illustrates our process to developing a winning solicitation. Here are a few additional tips;
- Get Organized – We love Asana but really a whiteboard will work. Get a system, choose some tools, make a plan and stick to it. Writing a great is going to take longer and be harder than you think.
- Engage Your Team – Pull in partners and engage your team as early as possible. You will need them for everything from letters of support to detailed feedback on technical aspects of your proposal.
- Focus – Get really clear about the project. Grants are structured around discreet projects with a start, middle and end. The more clarity you and your team have, the better your proposal will be.
The California Energy Commission has very specific requirements in their solicitation documents. These go as far as to define fonts and margins on pages. Read the solicitation very close to understand the rules.
If you are planning on applying for a grant, tune in to the pre-application workshop. You can find these on the CEC website. Workshop details are also typically listed in the solicitation itself. These workshops are critical to your success, because they allow you to ask questions, establish rapport with the team working on the solicitation and to possibly network and partner with other teams.
It is important to note that these grant programs are developed by human beings with limited tools and often limited understanding of your space. Comments and feedback from experts can result in amendments and adjustments to a solicitation. Participating in a collaborative way from an early stage in the solicitation process will establish you and your team as an ally and resource to the agency, which is a good position to be in.
Applicants are responsible for carefully reading the solicitation, asking appropriate questions in a timely manner, ensuring that all solicitation requirements are met, submitting all required responses in a complete manner by the required date and time, and carefully rereading the solicitation before submitting an application
Step 4: Grant Management
Contracting, Accounting & Audits
Your grant will ultimately be a contractual relationship with you and the California Energy Commission. The only advice we will give here is: Have your attorney review your contract!
We are not attorneys, and this is not legal advice. Consult with your attorney and executive team about every aspect of contracting, accounting and audits.
Typically your contract will expose your company to liability, audits and will require various financial controls and processes be implemented. These can range from basic GAAP concepts to implementing time tracking for all employees. Review your contract and obligations carefully with your attorney and executive team before signing.
The CEC frequently requires monthly reporting on all grant projects. These reports typically include a narrative at a minimum, but may be coupled with an invoice. The process for this and other reporting meetings will all be outlined in your agreement with the CEC.
You will also typically be required to submit a final report.
The California Energy Commission’s grants ombudsman is an independent and confidential resource to grant recipients. The ombudsman is an impartial liaison who will convey feedback from grant recipients to the Energy Commission Chair and other commissioners.
The feedback that the ombudsman receives from grant recipients helps ensure that:
- The Energy Commission’s grant programs are effective and efficient.
- The Energy Commission’s grant processes are clear and understandable.
- Grant recipients have a positive experience with the Energy Commission.
Grant recipients may confide in the ombudsman without concern for reprisals because the comments will be relayed without attribution to the grant recipient. A grant recipient may request that his or her comments be attributable. The ombudsman will not testify about information received unless required by law. The ombudsman will not discuss matters in litigation or make decisions or legal determinations for the Energy Commission. Communications with the ombudsman will not suspend or otherwise affect any statutory, regulatory, or other applicable deadlines.