Selling energy-efficient electrical products would seem to be the perfect sales opportunity for electrical distributors. But 30 years after OPEC's 1973 oil embargo first sparked concerns over energy costs, the promise remains largely unfulfilled. It's insane.

It's been a long and frustrating road for the electrical distributors, electrical manufacturers and independent manufacturers' reps who see energy-efficient electrical products and systems as a solution to their customer's energy ills — and as a very profitable sales opportunity.

True believers in the potential of this market would probably agree the title of Paul Simon's hit song “Still Crazy After All These Years” could very well describe the market for energy-efficient lighting products, where most customers are still out of tune with its proven potential.

It's a sad, old song. In a 1984 Electrical Wholesaling article, one electrical distributor said, “I would say out of 100 different electrical contractors I have been involved with over the past few years, maybe one of them has really taken an active interest and pursued it (installing energy-efficient electrical products) as a way of business. The rest are waiting. I don't know what they are waiting for…If it was hyped up a bit more maybe they would pay more attention.”

Since that time, the key challenges facing the energy-conservation movement haven't changed. Selling products that promise future energy savings but have higher upfront costs remains a tough trick to master. Installers and end users still often shy away from purchasing anything except the absolute cheapest products that will do the job.

Despite the proven track record of energy-efficient lighting systems, motors, metering equipment and HVAC equipment to more than pay for their higher upfront cost, electrical distributors and electrical manufacturers of these products often face an uphill battle.

Over the past decade, many existing commercial, industrial, institutional, retail, government and educational facilities were retrofitted with energy-efficient lighting equipment; lighting installed in new construction of these facilities is generally much more energy-efficient than in the past.

It's a vast market. According to the Department of Energy, lighting systems consume more than 30 percent of all electricity used in commercial buildings. Electrical distributors that sell commercial/industrial lighting products — which account for nearly 26 percent of all electrical products sold through the distribution channel — still have much to gain. That's because a ton of flab can be trimmed in inefficient, energy-guzzling lighting systems.

One of the best tools electrical distributors can use to identify these energy savings for customers is the lighting audit. In his “Lighting Audits” article on page 30, Doug Walo, a 13-year lighting industry veteran, shows how electrical distributors can use lighting audits to convince customers that a lighting retrofit can produce real savings in their electricity costs.

The lighting industry has been through plenty of turmoil in the past few years. Utility rebates clouded the real benefits of installing energy-efficient lighting systems in the late 1980s and early 1990s. An influx of undependable electronic ballasts from a few, small unscrupulous manufacturers looking for a quick score in the early 1990s spoiled the market for the major players committed to the lighting industry. A few years later, shortages of electronic ballasts in the mid-1990s stymied the installation of more-efficient lighting systems.

Two of the most positive developments in this market is the access the Web offers to online calculators for lighting design and audits, and the robust online databases like www.lightsearch.com and www.searchspec.com, which are loaded with the latest lighting products.

Despite these changes and challenges, the core benefits of energy-efficient lighting systems remain the same. If customers finally see this market's potential, maybe Paul Simon can write a new song about the lighting market called “Finally Sane After All These Years.”