Orbituary for Mick Hutchins (1949 - 2022)

Mick was born in Highbury, London, on 18th May 1949. After Highbury Grammar School, Mick chose to study Physics and spent 5 happy years at Nottingham University where he gained a first-class bachelor’s degree and finished with a PhD. Following University, and after several appointments as a teacher of Physics and Maths, both in London and later in Jamaica, Mick joined Brian Brinkworth’s newly established and pioneering Solar Energy Unit at University College, Cardiff. He quickly became an expert in the solar and thermal properties of materials, renewable energy systems and the energy performance of buildings.

He also took a keen interest in energy for developing countries. As well as being members of UK-ISES, in the late 1970s, Mick and I were on the Intermediate Technology Development Group (ITDG) Solar Panel. I was Chairman. So, we met regularly in London trying to ‘save the world’ with solar energy. This ‘panel’ was the origin of ITPower.

In 1981 Mick co-authored, with Bill Gillett, Heating Water by the Sun for UK-ISES. This was a bestseller for the Society. He was Associate Editor (Optical Properties) of the ISES Journal of Solar Energy and contributed to several other journals.

Mick joined Oxford Brookes University in 1982 where he received a Personal Professorship. Physics as a pure subject was abolished, and he became Head of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. He founded the Solar Energy Materials Research Laboratory the same year. He also set up an MSc course on Energy Efficient Buildings within the School of Architecture. He was Visiting Professor at London South Bank University. Mick became known on the international stage for his excellent leadership qualities when he was appointed as Operating Agent of IEA-SH&C Task 18, Advanced Glazing Materials. He was also deeply involved in EU projects on glazing and properties of glass. Mick created a materials testing laboratory at his home in 2005 and traded as Sonnergy. On retiring in 2016, he sold the lab to a group in Paris which still operates. He also continued working as expert for the EC. Mick was a real European, and like many of us, was shocked by Brexit.

Mick was elected Chairman of UK-ISES in 2001. When we celebrated our 30th anniversary in London in 2003 the Society was growing after some dismal years and the future looked bright. But then a 2nd decline in membership set in and it was difficult to hold successful conferences. Mick stepped in, beyond his role as Chairman, and with his wife, Christiane, took on the management of the Society. He initiated a series of conferences, Photovoltaic Science, Application and Technology, (PVSAT) which demonstrated how times had changed in 30 years since PV was rated as ‘fringe’ by most people. PVSAT became a household name in the scientific world and was held annually a total of 16 times. PVSAT-16 was scheduled for 2019, but Covid prevented that. It was held in Salford in April this year. Mick did a wonderful job to put it together. The Conference included memorial celebrations for John Page and Brian Brinkworth, as well as the David Hall Memorial Lecture. In Salford, Mick informed close colleagues and friends that he had just been diagnosed with cancer, but he had not started any treatment. Mick had no idea how serious his condition was. We discussed PVSAT-17 and a 50th Anniversary Event for UK-ISES next year. Sadly, Mick’s health failed rapidly, and he passed away in the arms of Christiane on 9th September 2022.

Mick was not only a brilliant scientist and communicator, but he was also great fun to be with. I have some wonderful memories of my times spent with Mick. A good one is when we were together in Atlanta in 1979 for the ISES Congress. As well as our common passion for Solar, we also enjoyed drinking a glass or three, on appropriate occasions. We were in a bar close to the hotel having a quiet drink, just the two of us left in the place, when at 2am two policemen arrived, laden with weapons. The Sherriff (or whatever he was) addressed us (we could not understand a word he said) and held out paper cups. We offered him a share of our beers and said ‘cheers’. The barman instantly physically kicked us both onto the street. We went back to the bar the next day and the barman explained that we were supposed to put our beer in the paper cups and move into the street, and he was worried the policemen would pull out their guns! From Atlanta we travelled to Washington D.C. and stayed with our friend, C.J.Swet, from the US Department of Energy, at his vineyard in Maryland. We feasted on soft-shell crabs and CJ’s wine, of course. A fantastic time to remember.

Miss you Mick!
Bernard McNelis