School of Social and Political Science

Sustainable solar lamp wins global design award

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A solar-powered light that Edinburgh researchers created from recycled plastics and ethically-sourced electronic components has won a prestigious design accolade.


The portable lamp and charger, which is built to promote responsible production and cut electronic waste, scooped a prize at the iF Product Design Awards.

Aimed at families without access to mains electricity in low-income countries, it has been designed by a team in the University’s School of Social and Political Science.

The device – known as the Solar What?! – was built in partnership with Edinburgh-based design agency Cramasie.

Battery powered

It is powered using mobile phone batteries and can be repaired with non-specialist tools and charged from a range of second-hand solar modules.

Solar What?! was selected from more than 7,000 entries by a panel of 78 international design experts from more than 20 countries.

The iF Awards were launched in 1954 to recognise outstanding design. Solar What?! won an award for Professional Concept, which recognises experimental or conceptual designs and research projects.

Research based

Jamie Cross, Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology and Associate Dean for Knowledge Exchange and Impact, co-designed the Solar What?! and led the research that helped to shape its design.

He said Solar What?! had been built to challenge unsustainable design practices in the off-grid solar industry and to promote the right to repair.

Small solar-powered lamps and chargers provide basic access to energy for millions of people worldwide who live without mains electricity.

Professor Cross said:

"Products that can be repaired in the place that they are used can increase access to energy, support local livelihoods and reduce electronic waste."

High sales

Every year more than one million small solar-powered lighting devices are sold in Sub Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The rapid expansion of markets for off-grid solar products has been accompanied by new flows of electronic waste.

Each year more than 1.5 million devices reach the end of their working life because the people who use them are unable to replace batteries or repair simple electronic components.

Repair practices

The design of Solar What?! has been influenced by Edinburgh-led studies of repair practices carried out in India, Kenya, Zambia, Burkina Faso and Papua New Guinea.

The design was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Economic and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Professor Cross added: "

Solar powered devices that are not built to be repaired by the people who use them are disposable technologies not sustainable technologies."

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