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"We [science fiction writers] always wanted to believe in "private sector" space -- hucksters make better characters than a government does."
- Larry Niven

Sunpower Screen  
  A solar cell array used to provide power for a vehicle.  

The Sunpower screen was the motive power for a special kind of explorational vehicle. Today, we would call this kind of "screen" a photovoltaic cell array, or solar panel. A variety of solar panels are available commercially.

The vehicle he had chosen was not an unreasonable substitute for burros. It was extremely rugged, easy to operate, and almost foolproof. It drew its power from six square yards of sunpower screens on its low curved roof. These drove a constant- load motor, or, when halted, replenished the storage battery against cloudy weather, or night travel. The bearings were 'everlasting', and every moving part, other than the caterpillar treads and the controls, were sealed up, secure from inexpert tinkering.
From Coventry, by Robert Heinlein.
Published by Not Known in 1940
Additional resources -

At present-day rates of efficiency, six square yards of Amorphous silicon-based solar cells would produce about (100 milliwatts per square inch) x (6 x 36 x 36 square inches) = 780 watts of power.

For comparison, the Ford e-Ka uses a battery pack which consists of 180 individual cells, and is capable of storing 28 kilowatt hours (kW/h) of energy, and weighs a mere 280 kilograms. This vehicle goes zero to sixty in about 12 seconds and is capable of eighty miles an hour. If you are interested in the science, take a look at this solar energy experiment.

Be sure to read about the vehicle described above: Steel Tortoise - grandfather of the ATV from the same novel; that entry has a slightly extended quote.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Coventry
  More Ideas and Technology by Robert Heinlein
  Tech news articles related to Coventry
  Tech news articles related to works by Robert Heinlein

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