Design Engineering
Showcase 2020

Circular Economy Solutions for Off-Grid Solar

Matt Hamilton
Design Engineering MEng
Dr Leila Sheldrick
Rethinking Resources for a Finite Planet

Off-Grid Solar energy is providing a pathway to electrification for rural base-of-the-pyramid communities around the world. As the industry grows, it is accountable for a growing share of e-waste flows in emerging markets. Therefore, the question of what happens to solar home systems at the end of their useful life is becoming increasingly pertinent.

This project investigates how circular economy strategies can be applied to the Off-Grid Solar sector to improve environmental and social outcomes.

 — Circular Economy Solutions for Off-Grid Solar


A novel product-service-system for Off-Grid Solar which employs circular interventions was developed during this project. The proposed system advocates for a step-change in the way solar devices are provided, to prioritise access to electricity, rather than ownership of a solar home system. In this system, users make regular subscription payments, but the device itself remains the property of the providers; elements of the solar system are then replaced as they degrade and break.

Two diagrams were created as communicative assets for the project. The first shows the dominant product-service-system for Off-Grid Solar – PAYGo Solar, and the second diagram shows the designed solution – a circular system for Off-Grid Solar.

 — Circular Economy Solutions for Off-Grid Solar
The existing PAYGo Solar product-service-system.
 — Circular Economy Solutions for Off-Grid Solar
The proposed circular product-service-system.


Eco Indicator 99, a life cycle impact assessment tool, was used to perform A-B testing between the existing PAYGo Solar system and the proposed solution. Across production, transport, and disposal, the circular Off-Grid Solar system was found to cause less environmental harm, with a 63% improvement of overall outcomes over a 20 year period of a household accessing electricity.

Additionally, expert interviews with industry stakeholders from leading Off-Grid Solar companies were completed to validate the project from a commercial perspective.

 — Circular Economy Solutions for Off-Grid Solar
Life Cycle Impact Assessment results.


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