The tiny panels are small enough to be placed into yarn and then knitted or woven into textiles. The team behind the technology said that in testing it was capable of charging a mobile phone and a fitness tracker.
The solar panels are only 3mm long and 1.5mm wide and almost invisible to the naked eye, the researchers said.
Project lead Professor Tilak Dias, from the university’s school of art and design, said the clothes would look identical to any others.
“By embedding miniaturised solar cells into yarn we can create clothing and fabric that generate power in a sustainable way,” he said.
“The clothing would look and behave like any other textile, but within the fibres would be a network of miniaturised cells which are creating electricity.
“This could do away with the need to plug items into wall sockets and reduce the demand on the grid while cutting carbon emissions.
“The electrical power demand for smart e-textiles has always been its Achilles heel and this technology will allow people to use smart textiles while on the move.”
The researchers said if 2,000 solar cells were incorporated into a textile it could generate enough power to charge a smartphone.
They have developed a proof-of-concept textile measuring 5cm by 5cm which contains 200 cells.
The concept uses a USB cable to connect to a phone, but the researchers said they hoped to create a pocket containing a hidden connection that would act as a charging dock made of fabric, enabling devices to be charged without a cable.