Drop in to our new stores in Wichita, Kan., and you can be part of our experiment. In October, we opened two Neighborhood Markets that were identical – except that one is lighted almost entirely by LED.
We’ve pushed hard on LED in parking lots and freezer cases, but a sales floor lighted entirely by LED was a first for Walmart in the U.S. We opened twin stores in Wichita on the same day: One was lit by standard fluorescent lighting and the other by LED.
We wanted to know: Would customers notice the difference, and if they did, would they be less likely to go to the LED store if the products looked different in that lighting?
The Wichita stores gave us a direct comparison in the same city – and in the end, it’s clear that the average customer does not know the difference. The only thing they notice is that the products look great.
LED is one of the many technologies we are testing at Walmart as we work to one day be powered by 100 percent renewable energy. We are also piloting solar, wind, fuel cells, off-site generation, green power purchases and a lot more.
When it comes to renewables, technologies require experimentation, investment and a lot of patience. Right now, LED has a dramatically higher start-up cost – about three and a half times as much as standard lighting. LED also has lower maintenance costs, a much longer life span and can operate more than 50 percent more efficiently than fluorescent illumination. And as we discovered in Wichita, it works just as well for customers.
Walmart is now testing LED in several of our 27 markets. China has led the way with prototype LED sales floors, and in 2011, we also opened an LED-lighted store in Acapulco, Mexico.
Last year, we also retrofitted six of our distribution centers in the U.S. with interior LED lighting. To date, we have installed 18,261 LED fixtures in eight distribution centers, which will reduce energy use by an estimated 16 million kilowatt hours in 2012. That’s the equivalent of powering more than 1,300 American homes for a year.
Today, practically every new parking lot we build around the world is lit with LEDs, and most of our markets have adopted LED freezer case lighting.
To show you just how quickly things are changing: Walmart worked with General Electric to create LED freezer case lighting and, in 2005, it was installed for the first time in our store in McKinney, Texas. Seven years later, it is our standard around the globe and it is becoming the industry norm.
We’re excited about LED, but like with most renewable-energy sources, it will take more testing, innovation and time for costs to come down. We will keep bringing new technology to market, because as we like to say at Walmart, we are working toward a day when people do not have to choose between renewable energy and affordable energy.