New Sustainable Lamp Could Reduce Electronic Waste in the Solar Energy Industry

Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have created a new portable light that has been made from ethically sourced electronic components and recycled plastics.

Termed as Solar What?!, the novel device is powered through mobile phone batteries that are extensively available. It can be charged from an array of second-hand solar modules and repaired with the help of non-specialist tools. Such a solar-powered, sustainable lamp can benefit families that lack access to mains electricity in low-income countries.

Reducing solar waste

The Solar What?!, developed by the University’s School of Social and Political Science in association with Edinburgh-based design agency Cramasie, has been specifically developed to reduce electronic waste and promote responsible production in the solar energy sector.

According to researchers, the device could help in addressing the evolving challenges around plastic and electronic waste, especially in South Asian countries and Sub-Saharan Africa where there is a huge demand.

By 2022, yearly sales of off-grid solar lighting products are estimated to reach 70 million devices, worth US$8bn in revenue. According to a report by the World Bank’s Lighting Global program, over 25 million off-grid solar devices were discarded in 2017, producing huge amounts of battery and plastic waste.

Zambia impact

In order to promote sustainability in the off-grid solar sector and support the development of the Solar What?!, the University of Edinburgh has signed a partnership pact with the international charity SolarAid.

The first set of devices will be available in early 2019 for schoolchildren and their families living in Zambia.

The device development has received strategic financial support from the Economic and Social Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

When solar things break down in Sub Saharan Africa and South Asia, people try to fix them. Solar-powered lighting devices that cannot be fixed are effectively disposable technologies. The solution to electronic solar waste lies in designing products that can be easily repaired. When solar powered devices can be taken apart and repaired locally, they reduce electronic waste and provide clean energy for longer. Repair should be as important as sunlight in a responsible and sustainable solar industry.

Dr Jamie Cross, Solar What?! Project Lead, School of Social and Political Science, The University of Edinburgh.

The SolarWhat!? was recently introduced in Madrid at an international convention that displayed technologies for the circular economy.

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