The suncollectors are in no way natural. They started off as Light and Heat Incorporated's attempt to satisfy investors and the public of their 'green' energy credentials. Someone, somewhere, had probably thought that having plants generate solar energy was a fantastic pun. There were research credits and tax breaks involved too, and an enormous amount of positive buzz when the first plant was unveiled to the press in its little pot that you could plug into the power grid to deposit energy into the system.
That was the rub, of course. You had to get the plants from the company and you had to grow them in the company's supplied frame to collect the energy. So far, so good. The company kept control of their product, they got credit for being environmentally virtuous, all that sort of stuff. Even when they went into major production and planted fields of the things on good crop growing land, because the company wanted to get its money back, it was all fine - except perhaps they should have talked to an agricultural seed company first. Just to get a few pointers.
As it happened, an agricultural seed company went to talk to them, some three years into the project. A little matter of weed plants giving electric shocks when they were crushed. Agrimegacorp Universal had been policing up some self-seeded sunflowers on the edge of a herbicide resistant test plot, and they'd lost a lawn mower. Really fortunately for everyone, it had been remote-controlled so there was no people damage, that time. Agrimegacorp Universal hadn't been growing sunflowers, but they did ask some very pertinent questions. They offered to help Light and Heat Incorporated revise their release protocols, and to provide experienced science auditors to help. Light and Heat Incorporated accused them of attempted industrial espionage, and attempted theft of intellectual property. Legal firms were mobilised, and the court cases continue, even now.
It got messier than that. Agrimegacorp Universal knew exactly who all the plant lobbyists and activists were, and they told every one of their good and bad contacts that Light and Heat wasn't using sterile plants in its test plots. Pictures of the lawnmower were circulated.
Then someone looked at the fields of sunflower-derived suncollectors, neatly planted in their energy collector arrays, then at Light and Heat's newly released solar vine, designed to power individual buildings, and asked, "So, how did they get the genes for that from the sunflower and into the ivy?" Light and Heat talked a lot about intellectual property, and other people made informed and uninformed speculations.
Solar vine was immensely popular on release; it was pretty, shiny, fashionable, power-wise it performed as advertised, and it was planted in every environmentally credentialed project within Light and Heat's commercial reach. Their marketing department sent beautiful gift baskets to all the architectural firms and practices that year.
About the time that reports started coming in that solar vine’s other characteristics could have done with more testing before release, there were reports of odd, reflective-leaved trees in the swanky, upmarket suburb of Harbour Heights. Light and Heat's legal and public relations teams suddenly had to deal with a week when the news headlines were "Solar Vine Eats Buildings" and "Suncollector Saplings Kill Landscapers".
Turns out that solar vine has very invasive roots, and if they can't find a flaw in concrete or glass where they can get in to get at the silicon content, they'll make one. Mortar doesn’t stand up well to those roots either. All those pretty, environmentally sound buildings started falling down, not all at once, but piece by piece. People tried to remove the vine, but aside from the electrical shock problem, it turned out that it could regrow from a tiny piece of root left in a crevice. It also flowered, and produced fruit; Agrimegacorp Universal was not the only unimpressed party. You would have thought that the plant would zap any bird stupid enough to try to eat those fruit, no such luck, and pigeons, Indian mynahs, and a whole swag of other birds loved them. It spread everywhere, and cities started to crumble faster and faster.
Back with the shiny leaved trees, it was discovered that being a bigshot in a power company doesn't come with any guarantee that you'll understand or follow lab safety protocols. The CEO of Light and Heat himself had managed to accidentally walk a sample of the firm's viral genetic manipulation agent out of the lab, and into the environment around his house. A lot more plants with suncollector abilities started turning up in the neighbourhood. Then reports started coming in of similar plants turning up in other parts of the country, and even overseas in places that Light and Heat had no connection to, but then the CEO's family and neighbours had always travelled a lot.
Heat and Light lost their power monopoly when a small family company in southern Africa developed a cheap kit that you could insert into a tree trunk to tap into the electricity it was generating. Numerous courts ruled that as the virus that converted the trees to suncollectors had been feral and uncontrolled by Heat and Light, then they had no control over steps that others might take to mitigate the ill effects of said virus. Heat and Light was overwhelmed by other power companies who were suing them for ruining the business on one hand, and developing better energy collectors on the other. Then the agricultural companies went after them, because the virus wasn't stopping at changing trees and ornamental garden plants.
We had lots of power, crumbling infrastructure, and food got short because biting into something that shocks you is not a good thing. Animals don't like it any better than we do. On top of that, all the suncollector modified plants aggressively shaded out other plants, and vegetables tend to like a lot of sun.
A lot of brain power got thrown at the food problem very quickly. Seeds and fruit were alright to eat once they were harvested from suncollector-modified plants, and someone worked out that if you collected the electricity, so it wasn't stored in the plant, then there were no more shocks. The collection systems were improved so much that Heat and Light's patents no longer applied, and field collection systems became the new farm must-have as well as the world's favourite aid project. They’ve improved to the point that you lay some component impregnated plastic strips in the ground, connect them up to the grid, and you can do almost anything you want to the plants, including letting animals graze on them. Some farmers even use them to keep an eye on suncollector weeds turning up in their unmodified crop.
All of that explains why I live in a wooden house with a tin roof that's covered in reflective ivy, in amongst the plant-covered remains of skyscrapers, tending to the Latimer Street ferry. I also spend a lot of time weeding baby suncollectors out of my garden, and watching the law reports on the broadcast information channels. It’s said that the ongoing travails of Heat and Light are the most watched soap opera on the planet. They probably don’t appreciate that.
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