Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Power-Sipping Bulbs Get Backing From Wal-Mart

NYT 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.

Good for WalMart, the store many Democrats hate.
“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.
I use them, and not just to save energy. The fact that they last many years is the reason I use them. With my handicap I have to depend on others to change a bulb for me, and whenever an incandescent bulb goes out, I have them replace it with one of these bulbs. The only place I use incandescents is in a lamp that I may want to use a dimmer to dim the bulb while watching TV.
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.
And saves them from having to change bulbs as often.
But it is eight times as expensive as a traditional bulb, gives off a harsher light and has a peculiar appearance.
Eight times as expensive and lasts 10 times longer. Makes sense.
As a result, the bulbs have languished on store shelves for a quarter century; only 6 percent of households use the bulbs today. Which is what makes Wal-Mart’s goal so wildly ambitious. If it succeeds in selling 100 million compact fluorescent bulbs a year by 2008, total sales of the bulbs in the United States would increase by 50 percent, saving Americans $3 billion in electricity costs and avoiding the need to build additional power plants for the equivalent of 450,000 new homes. That would send shockwaves — some intended, others not — across the lighting industry. Because compact fluorescent bulbs last up to eight years, giant manufacturers, like General Electric and Osram Sylvania, would sell far fewer lights. Because the bulbs are made in Asia, some American manufacturing jobs could be lost.
Make them in the USA
And because the bulbs contain mercury, there is a risk of pollution when millions of consumers throw them away. Michael B. Petras, vice president of lighting at G.E., concedes that “the economics are better with incandescent bulbs.”
If it is a concession, don't you mean they are better with bulbs that last longer and burn less electricity.

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