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 [www.offgridsolarscorecard.com]
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 [https://www.cramasie.com/] 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.