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Solar What?!

EPSRC IAA-funded project that set out to challenge unsustainable design practices in the off-grid solar industry.

Young man disassembles a solar-powered device
A young man disassembles a solar-powered device. Image: Solar What?!

The project

Off-grid solar products offer many benefits to those living in energy poverty, but existing solar lamps break down easily, rendering them useless to those who rely on them and contributing to the global problem of plastic pollution. Premature and improper disposal of these lamps also represents significant energy waste.

Led by Principal Investigator, Professor Jamie Cross, the research team wanted to challenge this waste by developing, prototyping and building a fully repairable solar-powered lamp and charger with adaptability and sustainability at its core. The team developed two devices – a pocket-sized, rechargeable torch; and an adaptor unit that can be connected to a solar panel to charge other devices as well as providing light, for use in a fixed location.


The project originated from the research team’s concern about the off-grid solar industry’s electronic waste problem, which currently rivals that of the mobile phone industry. CREATIVenergie, a UK-based charity with a mission to ensure clean energy access and sustainable consumption in developing countries, shared the team’s concern, and when Professor Jamie Cross met CREATIVenergie’s founder Dr Joel Chaney at an event, they realised their shared goal of increasing repairability in the off-grid solar sector.

After further discussion, the research team and CREATIVenergie agreed to collaborate on a project to develop an off-grid, repairable prototype solar lamp. A period of research and development followed, and while a prototype was developed, the project required product design expertise to make the leap from concept to fully realised prototype.

Cramasie is a Scottish product design consultancy that believes in responsible production and consumption, which made it the ideal third partner for the project. With all necessary partners in place, EPSRC IAA funding was applied for and secured, and the team were able to quickly develop a professional design concept that would be suitable and ready for manufacture.


The IAA funding advanced the team to a critical stage, allowing them to form a stand-alone company – Solar What?! – and to promote the product to journalists at off-grid solar industry events.

This promotion has resulted in widespread acclaim, including an iF Design Award and an acquisition by the National Museums of Scotland for their permanent collection.

National Museums Scotland is excited to have recently welcomed a “Solar What?!” into its energy collection as an example of Scottish technological innovation that has the potential to have genuine positive impact on the lives of people in developing countries as well as helping to tackle plastic pollution and electronic waste.

Ellie SwinbankTechnology Curator for National Museums Scotland

Solar What?! has succeeded in demonstrating the viability and benefits of repairable off-grid solar products, while also serving to shine a spotlight on partners CREATIVenergie and Cramasie.

Furthermore, Solar What?! has provided CREATIVenergie with proof of the feasibility of a sustainable and fair approach in the off-grid solar sector; a key step towards its goal of sustainable energy for all. Cramasie had been looking to partner with the University of Edinburgh for some time, and their successful and inspiring partnership with the researchers on this project has fuelled the company’s enthusiasm for further collaborations with the University.


EPSRC IAA funding

EPSRC IAA funding is for University of Edinburgh researchers and academics at all career stages to support activities that accelerate or amplify the impact arising from EPSRC-funded research. The funds are managed by Edinburgh Innovations on behalf of the College of Science & Engineering. Please contact the EPSRC IAA team with any questions.