Living Green: Don’t Be Scared — Just Green Your Halloween

Greening your Hallo-ween doesn’t have to be scary.

By: Melissa Chaun

Greening your Hallo-ween doesn’t have to be scary. As the David Suzuki Foundation’s Queen of Green reported several years ago, you’ve got options, whether it’s creating the perfect costume for yourself or the kids, or providing treasured treats.

First, the challenge should be to try to avoid plastics as much as possible, whether in your decorations or costumes, or, yes, even with those treats. Our world is full of plastics and many single-use items don’t necessarily end up in our landfills so much as in our oceans, contaminating our soils and ultimately killing wildlife. Now that’s scary.

With this in mind, try to avoid the perhaps tempting — i.e., colourful and cheap — plastic Halloween decorations, and have fun thinking of more sustainable options.


Besides pumpkins and gourds of various shapes, colours and with/without “warts,” there are a number of indoor and outdoor plants available at your local grocery store or nursery, such as orange pansies, chrysanthemums, gaillardia, kalanchoe and the ornamental pepper plants.

Whatever you decide, avoid the invasive Eurasian Physalis alkekengi (sometimes listed as P. franchetii) or Jack-o-lantern vine. Unfortunately, some stores continue to sell this plant (with a subtle warning label) but it’s better to avoid it altogether. They are invasive, spreading via underground rhizomes and by reseeding, so should neither be planted outside nor composted. Moreover, Chinese lantern plants are poisonous — mind your children and pets — and apparently subject to many plant diseases and insect pests.

You don’t have to wait until Christmas to have fun with decorations. Incorporating plant material into various arrangements can be eye-catching and satisfying for the creative streak in you. Think about using the colours of the season in wreaths, swags, garlands, window boxes, cornucopias and how about Halloween kissing balls?

For an overall glow, there are orange lightbulbs. (There’s orange cellophane too, named because it’s actually made from plant-based cellulose, not plastic.)

Consider yourself really crafty? is an excellent how-to website with countless fun ideas to explore with the little people in your life, such as ghost terraria and mummy jar lanterns. (Avoid plastics and Styrofoam, wherever possible, substituting with paper/fabric instead.)


Challenge yourself and your kids to repurpose something you already own. Some of the most creative costumes I’ve ever seen have been repurposed and handmade. It’s also fun to visit your local thrift store for inspiration. How about organizing or suggesting a costume swap/trade with friends and family? As well, you can always rent a costume.

Use non-toxic make-up and hair dye, especially on your children. Choose non-toxic options or you can create safe Halloween make-up with a recipe from (which provides lots of crafty ideas as well). You’ll need simple ingredients like vegetable glycerin (found at health food stores), cornstarch, and food colouring (there are plant-based options now).Bottom of Form


Buy bulk to cut down on excess packaging. Look for Fair Trade chocolate and organic candy. In addition to roasting pumpkin seeds to make a tasty nutritious treat, try turmeric-dusted popcorn from Vegetarian Times magazine. For the vegetarians and vegans out there, look for chewy candies made with vegetarian alternatives such as tapioca syrup, agar agar or fruit pectin.

Whatever you do this Halloween, challenge yourself to be more planet-friendly and have fun getting to know your neighbours by walking with your children as they trick or treat — not driving them to another neighbourhood.


New Solar Innovation Cuts Costs By 60% While Increasing Efficiency By 24%

By: Josh Davis

Solar power isn’t just fantastic for the planet. It’s also a huge opportunity. Fortunately for us – and the planet in particular – industry doesn’t care so much about what governments do in terms of climate change regulations, more whether it can make a profit or save money.

From the billions of dollars being injected into the Californian economy to the hundreds of thousands now employed in the solar industry, it is becoming more and more obvious to major companies and investors that the renewable sector is rapidly turning into quite a profitable business.

The main stumbling blocks in recent years, though, have been the cost of renewable systems, their efficiency, and their ability to store the energy they produce. But engineers have been pushing to solve these issues, hoping that when they do, there will be nothing holding the technologies back.

One of the biggest hitters in the sector is the ever-present Elon Musk, who pioneered the development of household battery storage devices by launching the Tesla Powerwall. Bringing the ability to store solar energy at home to the mainstream was a significant step forward, and one that has already inspired other companies to produce their own versions, from the Japanese car-maker Nissan to the Swedish furniture shop Ikea.

But one major issue is simply the cost. For a long time, the price of renewables suppressed the market, limiting its spread. But now things are changing, and a new company is hoping to radically alter the industry. A novel technique developed by the California-based solar manufacturing company Rayton Solar might be able to cut the cost of production by 60 percent while increasing efficiency of solar panels to 24 percent.

The system works by utilizing a new cutting technique to produce incredibly thin sheets of silicon, between 100 and 50 times thinner than what is currently achieved. This, Rayton Solar says, will mean it can produce far more panels from the same volume of material than other companies, slashing the price per unit. The technique also allows the use of higher grade silicons, like the float-zone silicon currently used by NASA, which has a far higher efficiency compared to other market varieties.

This would not only cut the cost for the consumer, allowing more people to install solar panels, it would also lower installation costs as 25 percent fewer panels would be needed. In terms of commercial use, this means that solar farms would require 25 percent less land.

Many suspect that the tide has already turned, and that the fossil fuel industry is now a dying sector. It will still take years to find out whether this is true, but what is certain is that renewables are looking like a far more logical investment for the future.


Mandalay Homes Teams Up with Sonnen to Create Solar Community

By: Karen Graham

Prescott – Germany-based Sonnen GmbH is partnering with Arizona home builder Mandalay Homes on a community solar photovoltaic project of 2,900 homes in Prescott, designed to act as a virtual power plant.

A typical solar community as seen in a birds-eye view. Andrewglaser

Every home in the Prescott, Arizona neighborhood of almost 3,000 homes will have solar panels and a battery, provided by Sonnen. Smart home controls will automatically store solar power, to be used when needed, including powering each home’s climate control systems, lighting, and other electronics.

Also, all the homes in the neighborhood will be networked, allowing them to share power using SonnenCommunity technology. The interconnected system of solar panels and energy storage will serve as a 23 MWh virtual power plant with a total output of 11.6 MW, reports Electric Light&Power.

Many readers may remember that earlier this month, Sonnen announced its plan to install microgrids to provide electricity for at least 15 emergency relief centers in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. Called the “Puerto Rico Energy Security Initiative” (PRESI), it will eventually expand to include all of the island, working with their local partner and distributor of its products, Pura Energia.

The sonnenBatterie eco is an energy storage solution for your home that uses intelligent software to manage energy throughout the day – saving you money, providing backup power and enabling you to use your solar power at night.

The “virtual power-plant’

The batteries, which can cost as much as $10,000 to $20,000, will be a part of the home’s cost and wrapped into the mortgage. The ultimate goal is to have utilities pay the homeowners to use the stored power in those 3,000 batteries, literally creating a “virtual power plant.” The amount of stored power, 8-megawatt hours of electricity, will be enough to power about 5,000 average homes for a day.

Sonnen Senior Vice President Blake Richetta said even if utilities didn’t buy any power, homeowners would still be saving money. They would either need to buy a small amount or no power at all from the electrical grid, reported Reuters. For now, Sonnen is moving ahead with the project without any buy-in from local utilities. This has been one stickler for Sonnen in getting into the U.S. market.

“When I came to Sonnen from Tesla, there was all this talk and no unified approach to a clean energy vision in the US. It frustrates the German team.” American utilities mostly wanted to implement pilot projects and would become paralyzed by them, said Richetta, former North America Powerwall sales manager for Tesla.

One of the many Mandalay homes in Arizona. Mandalay Homes

However, Sonnen would prefer to work with the local utility, Arizona Public Service. They are in talks with Pinnacle West Capital Corp’s Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project. “We’re trying to redefine the grid shared by all of us and create a clean energy future, instead of having a clean energy industry that doesn’t harmonize. That’s a dead end,” he said. “We could have our own little island, but that doesn’t do anything for the greater society.”

About Mandalay Homes

Prescott, Arizona-based Mandalay Homes is a certified U.S. Department of Energy ZERO Energy Ready Homebuilder. They have their sights set on becoming the first U.S. production home builder to meet the stringent qualifications of the U.S. Passive House certification. Mandalay Homes’ Owner and CEO Dave Everson is a long time resident of the state of Arizona with family roots in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Scientists Have Created a Concrete Roof That Generates Solar Power


Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich have developed a new form of ultra-thin, curved roofing that’s capable of producing solar power. The design will allow a residential structure that’s part of the school’s living lab facility, NEST, to generate more energy than it consumes.

The roof is made up of several layers; an inner sheet of concrete, which acts as a foundation for heating and cooling coils and insulation, which are in turn covered by more concrete. Thin-film photovoltaic cells used to harvest solar energy are then installed on the exterior of the building.

The prototype for the roof was some 7.5 meters high, and had a total curved surface area of 160 square meters. It’s now been dismantled, ahead of the same design being implemented next year on the HiLo apartment building that’s part of the NEST project.

The unique shape of the roof would typically be constructed with non-reusable materials like specially fabricated timber or milled foam. Instead, this project used a net constructed from steel cables which was covered with a polymer textile, producing a form that the concrete could adhere to. This facilitated the unusual design, but it made the project considerably cheaper in terms of the the cost of materials.

The Block Researcher Group and the Swiss National Centre of Competence contributed an algorithm to the project to ensure that the roof would take on its desired form when the weight of wet concrete was applied to the net. The concrete was sprayed onto the net using a technique developed specifically for this application.


Roof-mounted solar panels are nothing new, but various advanced versions of the technology have emerged in the past few years. As well as being incredibly efficient, this new hardware is typically a lot cheaper than previous iterations.

Tesla’s well-publicized solar roof project is perhaps the most prominent example. If the finished product is as effective and inexpensive as Elon Musk has suggested, it could potentially bring a method of harnessing solar energy to more homes than ever before.

However, Tesla isn’t the only company innovating when it comes to solar power. The roll-up solar panels developed by Renovagen demonstrate another way that solar technology is being implemented in ways that were unheard of even a decade ago.

Solar power is an increasingly viable way to produce energy, and more and more countries are investing in solar infrastructure on a large scale. Thanks to projects like the HiLo roof, individuals are set to have more ways to implement the technology in their own homes than ever before.




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