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LEDs Emerge as Powerful Alternative

David Elien is president of GE’s GELcore, LLC, Cleveland, info@gelcore.com

Advancements in light-emitting diode (LED) technology are lowering the cost of light and driving significant energy and maintenance savings. David Elien, president of GELcore, LLC, GE Consumer & Industrial’s LED business, spoke with Chain Store Age’s executive editor Marianne Wilson about the evolving technology and its use in retail.

Chain Store Age: In making the case for LEDs, what do you see as the single biggest benefit for retail owners?

David Elien: Overall cost savings, with a rapid ROI delivered through reduced energy and maintenance costs. But ROI is not the only benefit. There is also greater reliability, long life, low voltage, no UV, no mercury, no breakage and easy installation. The case for new LED solutions vs. older technologies is very strong.

CSA: How can a retailer get the most benefit from an LED solution?

Elien: Retailers should look at the true cost of ownership of an LED lighting solution from a knowledgeable LED company with a track record for quality. There’s a whole lot more involved than up-front acquisition costs and vendor selection. Significant energy and maintenance cost reductions can offset the initial product costs and generate a pay-back of less than three years. The deeper a retailer digs to uncover all the hidden costs of operating old technology lighting systems, the more attractive an LED solution becomes.

CSA: To date, what have been the main applications of LED technology in retail environments?

Elien: Signage, architectural-accent and cold-environment display lighting have been big. One of the earliest and most widespread applications of LED technology in the retail environment is signage—both interior and exterior. For example, retail leaders such as The Home Depot and Wal-Mart are using GE’s Tetra LED lighting systems, not only to reap the rewards of game-changing energy savings, but also to enhance system reliability and reduce the overall cost of light compared with fluorescent or neon.

CSA: Are there any other potential applications?

Elien: We’re constantly talking with retailers about how LEDs could be used in place of incumbent lighting technologies to solve current problems or add new functionality. In 2007, our retail customers will see improved LED offerings for signage and display, and other applications where maintenance hassles and energy costs are big concerns.

We also urge retailers to take another look at retrofitting existing red-neon signage where the improved cost and performance of red LEDs make outright replacement an attractive option.

CSA: Wal-Mart recently announced it is switching to GE’s LED Refrigerated Display Lighting solution in its refrigerated cases. Is this a new product?

Elien: Yes. We introduced it in 2005 and vastly improved it in 2006 by delivering major energy savings compared with fluorescent lighting. Depending on the fluorescent lighting that our LED solution replaces, we’re able to help retailers reduce lighting-system energy consumption by up to 80%.

But our solution is about more than huge energy savings. It also offers reduced maintenance, delivers greater light-level uniformity across the face of products and cuts annoying glare on floors. On the aesthetics side, it makes low- and medium-temperature reach-in door-merchandiser display light sources invisible to shoppers.

Wal-Mart has committed to installing the solution in 500 U.S.-based stores. It’s the largest such retail installation to date and one that Wal-Mart projects will save $2.6 million annually on top of the significant environmental benefits.

CSA: What further improvements are likely with regard to LEDs?

Elien: Retailers can expect to see big advancements in the performance of white LEDs as GE and other manufacturers continue to improve the color quality, consistency and uniformity of white LEDs in 2007 and beyond.

CSA: Do you think solid-state lighting will ever serve as general lighting in a retail store?

Elien: Yes, we’re excited about the long-term potential for LED technology as a viable alternative to incumbent lighting technologies for general illumination applications.

Over time, LED technology will evolve to offer retailers increased performance, cost and environmental benefits. While this technology shift won’t happen overnight, eventually LED solutions will become a natural choice for general illumination. The key enablers will be the ability to reduce costs, increase efficiency and improve the quality of white light. GE will be at the forefront as this transformation unfolds. We recently invested $100 million to grow our LED lighting business and entered into a strategic alliance with Nichia Corp., one of the largest LED manufacturers in the world.