Big Box Hardware Stores Promote Green

Lowe’s and The Home Depot up the energy efficiency ante, but will their efforts really be great for the green tech movement?


A couple of recent announcements by big-box hardware stores holds some promise—and perhaps some peril for both consumers shopping for green products and electronics pros trying to sell energy efficiency technologies.

First, the potential good news:

Lowe’s Energy Center

Lowe’s has launched Energy Centers in its stores nationwide. The chain bills its Energy Center as “retail’s first truly integrated energy solution, bringing products that measure, reduce and generate energy to one convenient location to meet consumers’ individual energy needs.”

In other words, you’ll see solar technology alongside energy-efficient CFL lamps. Lowe’s vows “to provide a wide range of solutions that empower consumers to measure their energy use, reduce energy consumption and generate renewable energy.

The solar products will include solar battery chargers and Westinghouse Solar’s 180-watt AC solar panels ($893 per panel).

Lowe’s dedicating itself to selling green and energy-efficient products can only help educate consumers in these areas–and that’s a good thing. If Lowe’s does it right.

And now, the potentially not-so-good news:

The Home Depot

Home improvement giant Home Depot is hyping its affordable EcoSmart line of LED (light emitting diode) lamps. What’s so bad about that? After all, LED lamps are 80 percent more efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs, they can last much longer than incandescents and CFLs, and they don’t contain the trace amounts of mercury that are in CFLs.

Well, nothing is wrong with The Home Deport offering an affordable line of LEDs–on the surface.

I was recently at a Home Depot, looking for a good screw-in LED to show to a group I was speaking to about easy ways to save energy. I wanted to pass around an available LED lamp so they could see it and feel it and let it be real to them.

I was really encouraged that my local Home Depot dedicated several square feet of shelf space to LEDs. Then I started looking at them, and I know enough to check the lumen output level to see if a particular LED can shed enough light for tasks such as reading, cooking, or fixing stuff.

The $18.95 A19 EcoSmart LED being offered by Home Depot, for instance, replaces a 40-watt incandescent bulb with just 9 watts of LED. That’s great. But the lumen output is just 429. Granted, this isn’t a 60-watt reading light that should produce 800 lumens. But I knew it would be too dim for reading or other close tasks. This is a hallway, garage or closet light.

I am encouraged that as part of its EcoSmart line, The Home Depot has a PAR38 75-watt equivalent LED for recessed lighting, using just 18 watts. It produces 850 lumens—and it’s dimmable. Sweet! Only problem: It costs $45, which actually is pretty good for an LED lamp of that caliber.

Still, $45 is more than double $19—and you know what most unknowledgeable consumers are going to buy. They’re going to opt for the $20 light, which is about the point many experts agree is the magic number to induce LED sales in the mass market.

The result, I fear, will be people bringing home a light of inferior brightness and turning sour on LEDs, just as many bought early CFLs with their very harsh light and quality issues, and never bought another. I pray that doesn’t happen with LEDs.

So the good news is that The Home Depot could get more and more people buying LEDs, but the bad news is they could also turn people off to them.

I’m waiting for the 12-watt EnduraLED from Philips to replace 60 watts and producing about 860 lumens. Price is expected to be about $50 to $60 and it should be available by Christmas. I wouldn’t be surprised if they come in for even less.


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