In this age of environmental panic, it is always refreshing to read about organizations that are actually making a proactive effort to rely less on non-renewable energy sources such as fossil fuels, which cannot be reused and take billions of years to form, and rely more on renewable energy sources such as solar energy, which replenishes rapidly and is readily available because it comes from sunlight. Mt. Abram, a ski area in Maine, is not only the world’s largest snow-making site, but is also the second largest solar ski area in the country and gets 70% of its energy from the sun. (http://blogs.usda.gov/2015/01/12/investing-in-the-future-of-maines-great-outdoors-with-renewable-energy/)
Solar panels rely on the photoelectric effect, or the ability of matter to emit electrons in response to light, to convert sunlight into electricity. In order to fully understand how the photoelectric effect works, one must first understand photons, electrons, solar cells, and kinetic energy. Kinetic energy is the energy that a substance carries by virtue of its movement and location. A rock falling from a cliff has more kinetic energy than a rock sitting still. Photons are the tiny particles that make up sunlight and they carry kinetic energy because they move at the speed of light. Solar cells are what make up solar panels and they consist of two different types of silicon; n-type, which has spare electrons, and p-type, which is missing electrons. When a photon reaches the semi-conductive silicon surface of a solar cell, it transfers its potential energy to loose electrons and knocks them off the silicon atoms. The loose electrons then diffuse to the p-type silicon where electrons are missing and create a negative charge on that side of the solar cell (electrons are negatively charged), while the n-type silicon becomes positively charged. This imbalance creates an electric current across the solar cell. The silicon maintains this electricity by acting as an insulator (remember silicon is semi-conductive). The electricity stored in these solar cells can be used to power cars, satellites, calculators, houses, ski areas, and everything in between.
Figure 1: Diagram of a solar cell (etap.com)
Mt. Abram also uses the energy generated from burning wood pellets to heat its lodge. While it is not as renewable as solar energy, wood can be a relatively sustainable energy source if trees are replanted frequently enough. Attracting over 40,000 skiers each winter, the Mt. Abram ski lodge is a pioneer in the fight to sever our dependance on nonrenewable energy sources and shows that it is possible to run a successful business that relies on renewable energy.