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School of Engineering Blog

School of Engineering Blog

A blog for students, staff, alumni and friends of the School of Engineering.

Sustainable solar solutions for rural Africa: Interview with Favour Onyenma

Favour leaning against wooden structure, with grasses in the background
Reading Time: 3 minutes

As the devastating impacts of climate change are increasingly felt by communities across the globe, engineers now hold the key to devising many of the urgent technological and societal solutions required. 

To mark UNESCO World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development (WED) on 4 March 2024, we are focusing on the role of engineers in driving forward sustainable development initiatives in Africa and the small island developing states (SIDS). 

Our graduate, Favour Onyenma (MSc Sustainable Energy Systems, 2021) is Strategy and Product Lead for Sunsave Solutions, a University of Edinburgh student-founded startup company which is on a mission to increase access to clean, constant, and affordable electricity to rural communities in Africa, starting in Cameroon. 

Founded by Favour’s fellow University of Edinburgh graduate Mekila Ngwambe (Msc Africa and International Development) with support from Edinburgh Innovations, Sunsave is prototyping an affordable solar power kit to provide electricity to rural households in the world’s poorest areas. 

Both Favour and Mekila studied at Edinburgh as part of the MasterCard Foundation Scholarship scheme – which connects talented young African scholars with climate leadership opportunities, networks and support systems to enable them to make the most of the opportunities available, and to give back to their communities. 

What is your company’s mission?

The entrepreneurial idea behind the company is to provide low-income rural households with affordable solutions to unlock their potential. Our goal is to enable low-income rural households to acquire clean solar electricity with the same money they would otherwise spend on kerosene and candles. We use a PAYGo plan that allows flexible payment in monthly instalments, equivalent to the average monthly cost of kerosene. 

We are making sure the energy transition to environmentally friendly sources such as solar is just, fair and tackles inequality by putting those in energy poverty, female-led and low-income rural households in Sub-Saharan Africa at the centre of our project. 

How did you come up with the idea?

Both of my parents are small-scale entrepreneurs and I believe this played a huge role in shaping my business acumen. Growing up, my parents always supported me and never discouraged my business ideas even after numerous failures, although I put my flair for business on the back burner while I focused on my studies and skills development. 

My desire has always been to build a company to solve salient challenges faced by society. 

I became interested in renewable energy because of the challenges I saw within the electricity sector in my country, Nigeria. I wanted to bring my creativity to solving these challenges but was uncertain about how I would do this.  A few months after completing my MSc in Sustainable Energy, a friend shared some ideas on a rural electrification project that I thought were brilliant. Thanks to our team of four, Sunsave Solutions was born and we are ready to take on the world. 

What role has Edinburgh Innovations (the University’s enterprise service) played in your entrepreneurial journey?

Edinburgh Innovations has been very instrumental in my entrepreneurial journey. Firstly, Edinburgh Innovations has been crucial in helping my teammates secure a start-up visa, which has allowed us to continue building Sunsave Solutions from the UK.

Secondly, Sunsave Solutions now has a dedicated business adviser. Finally, through the Startup Summer Accelerator and the Inspire Launch Grow Awards, I have gained a better understanding of key elements such as marketing, financial projections, sales, investment strategy and effective pitching, which are all essential for a successful startup journey. 

What’s next?

Now, we are currently gathering and collating feedback from the performance of our prototype in the field (Cameroon). In the next few months, we will be incorporating some of these learnings in our product design, production, and distribution. We intend to continue strategic trialling to get more feedback and perfect our product.  

We are also looking to set up a board and redesign our website to be more reflective of our current position. Finally, as schools resume this year, we are implementing our Light for Education Campaign. We are now installing solar kits to three to five qualified schools in rural areas to power their science or computer labs. Keep an eye out for this on our Linkedin page! 

Find out more 



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