Sunny day for mobiles and MP13s

News from the future: Wednesday 21 June 2027

The first day of summer sees the launch by the Minister for Climate Change, Winston Patel, of a new range of solar powered summer clothes, which includes the now compulsory large-brim sun hats. The range has been designed by leading stylists and voted for by viewers of the popular TV programme ’Off with those clothes!’  

Given a minimum of one hour in direct sunlight, the clothing can generate and store enough power to keep mobiles and MP13s fully charged for up to a week. Solar clothing for children is also being launched and these will enable parents to follow their movements on a home screen via satnav. 

’An unexpected benefit of global warming is that we now enjoy Mediterranean type weather, and it has had the effect of encouraging parents to send their children out to play after school throughout most of the year, rather than spend their time in energy-consuming activities within the home,’ said Patel. 

The hats, shirts, shorts and dresses incorporate a new photovoltaic material which can even store surplus electricity to be downloaded on to home-based devices. The company behind the new clothes is based at the aptly-named Port Sunlight on Merseyside where its head of research, 30-year-old chemistry graduate Emma MacDonald, praised her fellow scientists for their work in making the new solar convertors entirely from organic chemicals and entirely free of metals. 

Our science correspondent writes: 

Backpacks with solar panels attached first appeared 20 years ago, but they relied on expensive metal-containing semiconductors including indium, stores of which are now almost exhausted since lead mining was banned in 2020. It was from this toxic and environmentally damaging metal that almost all the world’s indium was extracted. 

The new solar photovoltaics use organic semiconductors, which were discovered in the UK about 30 years ago. At first these had energy conversion efficiencies of only two per cent but further research pushed this up to the 10 per cent necessary for commercial exploitation. More recent research in China has increased it to 25 per cent and this is where the flexible panels are now manufactured for the world market. The wiring and energy storage cells built into the new clothes are also organic and made from carbon nanotubes. 

The energy to operate personal devices, many of which now have giga-gigs storage capacity, has fallen over the last 10 years, but some power is still needed, and various ways have been patented for supplying this without the need to expose oneself to the skin-damaging rays of the sun. Those who cannot or do not wish to spend time outdoors can have a body implant which works by the enzymic oxidation of in situ body fat, and around one person in 100 has had the minor operation to make this possible.