Tuesday, January 02, 2007
The Energy Challenge / Wal-Mart Puts Some Muscle Behind Power-Sipping Bulbs NYT 01/02/07
NY Times: As a way to cut energy use, it could not be simpler. Unscrew a light bulb that uses a lot of electricity and replace it with one that uses much less.
While it sounds like a promising idea, it turns out that the long-lasting, swirl-shaped light bulbs known as compact fluorescent lamps are to the nation’s energy problem what vegetables are to its obesity epidemic: a near perfect answer, if only Americans could be persuaded to swallow them.
But now Wal-Mart Stores, the giant discount retailer, is determined to push them into at least 100 million homes. And its ambitions extend even further, spurred by a sweeping commitment from its chief executive, H. Lee Scott Jr., to reduce energy use across the country, a move that could also improve Wal-Mart’s appeal to the more affluent consumers the chain must win over to keep growing in the United States.
“The environment,” Mr. Scott said, “is begging for the Wal-Mart business model.”
It is the environmental movement’s dream: America’s biggest company, legendary for its salesmanship and influence with suppliers, encouraging 200 million shoppers to save energy.
For all its power in retailing, though, Wal-Mart is meeting plenty of resistance — from light-bulb makers, competitors and consumers. To help turn the tide, it is even reaching out to unlikely partners like Google, Home Depot and Hollywood.
A compact fluorescent has clear advantages over the widely used incandescent light — it uses 75 percent less electricity, lasts 10 times longer, produces 450 pounds fewer greenhouse gases from power plants and saves consumers $30 over the life of each bulb. But it is eight times as expensive as a traditional bulb, gives off a harsher light and has a peculiar appearance.
As a result, the bulbs have languished on store shelves for a quarter century; only 6 percent of households use the bulbs today.