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Zakirah Allain

Zakirah Allain

Zakirah Allain

Photo of student Zakirah Allain

DARE Project: Off-grid solar e-waste in the Global South
Program(s) of Study: International Development Studies and African Studies
Project Supervisor: Nathanael Ojong

I believe this project has helped me advance my life and career goals by allowing me to be involved in important research work to the field of Development and climate security, and realize the skills required to be involved in research full time and long term.

Project Description:

The sale of off-grid solar (OGS) products—in the forms of solar lanterns and small solar home systems (SHSs)—has experienced an unprecedented boom in the Global South over the past decade. In 2019 alone, more than 35 million solar products were sold (equating to around US$1.75 billion in sales), a precipitous rise from the 200,000 products sold in 2010 (GOGLA, 2020). In part, this boom has been driven by the rapid and substantial decrease in the price of components for these systems, which has led to the establishment of an OGS private-sector industry in the Global South (Hansen et al., 2021), and the emergence of an OGS industry that has attracted more than US$2 billion in investment (equity and debt) since 2010 (GOGLA, 2021; Cross & Neumark, 2021). Solar technologies generally, and OGS technologies more specifically, are often encoded as unambiguously morally good (Cross, 2019). However, in the wake of this triumphalist story of off-grid electricity roll-out and access, the altogether murkier story of solar waste has become apparent (Cross, 2019; Cross & Murray, 2018). An overlooked socio-cultural and political dimension of the OGS market in the Global South in recent years is the question of what happens to these solar technologies when they break down (Cross & Murray, 2018). Accentuating this issue is that many, perhaps even the majority, of solar products sold in the Global South are described as being ‘generic, copycat and counterfeit (photovoltaic) products’ (GOGLA, 2018), and often only have working lives of a couple of years. Even branded, small-scale solar products usually only have one-year warranties, with an expected working life of three to four years (Cross & Murray, 2018; Samarakoon et al., 2022). Hence, the expected increase in the disposal of off-grid solar e-waste (SEW) in the Global South ‘is potentially the dark side of a promising innovation’ (Hansen et al., 2021), a problem that was predicted several years ago (van den Bergh et al., 2015). This project reviews the challenges of solar e-waste in the Global South. Specifically, the project aims to address the following questions: (1) What is the geography of SEW products in the Global South? (2) What are the barriers in preventing the OGS sector engaging in repairable design?

The Dean’s Award for Research Excellence (DARE) - Undergraduate enables our students to meaningfully engage in research projects supervised by LA&PS faculty members. Find out more about DARE.