Field of Science

What's the deal with rechargeable battery availability?

The last time TPP was in the market for rechargeable batteries most stores that carry such a product had a reasonable selection.  Your basic hardware store chain had a big display and many options along with versatile rechargers.  That must have been just about 3 years ago.  So imagine the surprise when nobody has nothing in this department.  The hardware store was obviously just selling out a few leftovers.  Other outlets in the battery business only had AA or AAA batteries, and then very few of them.  Clerks acted like "What?"  So what has happened?  The start up costs, the initial purchase of such batteries seems expensive, but they quickly reach a payback.  The average comsumer just may not be astute enough to see the bargain, to understand their value, and this does not factor in the cost of recycling and use of materials.  So is demand just so low rechargeable batteries are just disappearling?  Or is there something going on here that has escaped my attention?  Why the dirth of rechargeable batteries?  In particular taking batteries into the field is an issue.  With a rainforest field trip coming up, battery use will be going way up.  Understand that there is no dark like rainforest dark.  And with a new toy, a trail camera, some new rechargeable C-cells were needed, but none were to be found.  The field station insists that no batteries be discarded, so you must bring home every battery you bring and wear out.  Anyone out there have any ideas on this topic? 


William Connolley said...

I think the answer is two fold: for bicycle lights and stuff like that, the introduction of LED lights means that normal AA cells last so long that recharging doesn't really make sense. When I had bulbs, I needed to recharge, or get new batteries, every week. Now they last a year - or often, as long as the lights do. So that knocks out a pile of use.

And then lots of things (like cameras say) that used to need 4*AA's now take their own special rechargable cells.

mr_subjunctive said...

There's also the issue that rechargeable batteries only need to be purchased once (in theory); it'd be tough to make the same amount of money off of them while still pricing them low enough that people would buy them instead of regular batteries.

Anonymous said...

I'd second Mr. Subjunctive's point. Rechargeable batteries are a lot like the old CorningWare pyroceramic that was nigh-unbreakable: folks loved it, but since it lasted so long, you basically bought one set when setting up your household for the first time, and then never needed to purchase any more. Once you reach market saturation on (sort of-)durable goods, you don't have as many buyers, and your sales drop off. You're the victim of your own success.

Rechargeable batteries aren't once-in-a-lifetime sorts of purchases, but for a lot of companies the profit margins got a lot thinner once people were only buying replacements when they wore out, rather than ones to replace disposable batteries.