Wearing Solar: Scientists and Designers Apply Photovoltaic Cells to Personal Uses

By now, nearly everyone is familiar with the idea of using photovoltaic cells to capture sunlight and convert it to electrical energy on homes and buildings. But an increasing number of creative people are applying the technology to smaller, personal devices, with some fascinating results. Designer Pauline van Dongen, Project Director Christiaan Holland, and solar-energy expert Gert Jan Jongerden, have designed a Solar coat and Solar dress, which store and discharge electricity while being worn. The coat incorporates 48 rigid solar cells while the dress has 72 flexible solar cells. Each of them, if worn in the full sun for an hour, can store enough energy to allow a typical smartphone to be 50% charged. Although the products are not yet on the market, the team is already imagining other articles that would allow people to become energy sources.

On the TV show “The Big Bang Theory,” the characters believe “Everything is better with Bluetooth.” That philosophy has made it to a photovoltaic bracelet that tells its wearer how much sun she is receiving, and even suggests protective measures. The June bracelet is made by Netatmo and designed by Louis Vuitton and Harry Winston collaborator Camille Toupet. The device syncs over Bluetooth to a paired iPhone, where an app tells you how much sun you're getting based upon readings from the bracelet's photovoltaic gem. It also recommends sunglasses, a hat or a specific sunscreen based upon the measurements. It costs $100, and will come in platinum, gold, or gunmetal. It is expected to be available for sale later this year.

Even the military is getting into the wearable solar act. A demonstration project, the Marine Austere Patrolling System (MAPS), showed how portable, wearable solar panels could be used to power a variety of high-tech equipment. The panels could eliminate the need for soldiers to carry batteries in the field, greatly decreasing the weight of their field packs, which can weigh as much as 150 pounds when laden with batteries. Initial tests received high marks from the Marines involved, and research into wearable military solar continues, although the pace of the science has been slowed by budget cuts and troop drawdowns from overseas operating theaters.