Solar What?! is the outcome of ongoing research at the University of Edinburgh.

The product design process has taken place over three continents, with input from solar technicians, end users and energy access practitioners.

Grounded in field research

Since 2011 faculty members and students in social anthropology, international development studies, and design at the University of Edinburgh have been studying the cultures and economies of repair around electrical and electronic waste from solar energy technologies in South Asia and Sub Saharan Africa.

Our research has included long term, ethnographic field studies of breakdown, repair and ad hoc innovations around small solar energy technologies in a small town in Kenya; a refugee camp in Burkina Faso; and rural villages across the southern highlands of Odisha, India.

Based on a systematic review of product design

We have dismantled, analysed and rated over 80 solar powered lighting devices based on their reparability and recyclability.

In collaboration with the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, a leading solar research and advocacy organisation, we made this data publicly available through an an online platform, the Off Grid Solar Scorecard []

Our platform has been endorsed by the largest distributors of brand name solar powered lighting systems in Kenya (SunnyMoney) and India (Frontier Markets), as well as the international repair non-profit (iFixit). In 2017 the World Bank’s Lighting Global programme cited the Off Grid Solar ScoreCard as establishing minimum criteria for good practice in the field of eco-design and design for sustainability.

Designed in Kenya, India and Scotland

Since 2017 we have secured £95k to develop a production ready, solar powered lighting device that is built around sustainable design principles and meets international lighting global standards.

Working with a UK design agency, Cramasie [] initial proofs of concept were worked up into prototypes. Following feedback from technicians and end users in East Africa, SolarWhat?! entered small batch prototype production in September 2018.


June 2017

Between June 2017 and October 2018 the University of Edinburgh employed two UK design agencies, Creativenergie and Cramasie, and a project manager, to develop a proof of concept solar powered lighting device built around sustainable design principles.

SolarWhat?! secured £85k to develop a production ready prototype that meets international Lighting Global standards for small lighting devices.

October 2018

The first 30 prototypes - with high quality, vacuum cast casings and responsibly sourced electronic circuit boards - were assembled in Edinburgh.

November 2018

As a result of a shared commitment to sustainable solar technologies - the University of Edinburgh signed a partnership agreement with the UK Charity SolarAid to collaborate on product research and industry engagement.

Solar What!? was formally launched at a Hewlett Packard ‘Future of Lighting’ trade event in Madrid, where the product design was disseminated to 8000 delegates via a virtual reality exhibit.

December 2018

We will add the first SolarWhat prototype to the National Museum of Scotland’s permanent collection, disseminated to the wider public as an example of a technological innovation, designed in Scotland to address global challenges of energy access and electronic/plastic waste.

January 2019

We will work with SolarAid to pilot 25 Solar What?! devices with schoolchildren and their families in Zambia, eliciting feedback direct from end-users.

March 2019

We will invite advance purchase orders of the Solar What!? device from UN agencies and charities, and will invite expressions for interest from international solar manufacturers looking to licence the design for regional markets.