Eaton Corp.'s announcement last month that it had been certified by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as an energy service company (ESCO) offered a glimpse into the world of turn-key energy projects for federal facilities owned by government entities such as the General Services Administration (GSA) and various branches of the military.

Competing for these contracts with Eaton are well-established ESCOs such as Ameresco, ConEd Solutions, Constellation Energy Projects & Services, FPL Energy Services, Honeywell, Johnson Controls, Noresco and Trane. Also after these contracts are electrical players such as Schneider Electric and its ESCO business unit, TAC Americas; Siemens, through its Government Services unit; Facility Solutions Group, the Austin, Texas-based electrical distributor; and EMCOR, the publicly held contracting firm.

In a press release announcing the certification, Paul Cody, vice president and general manager of Eaton's Electrical Service & Systems division, said, “As the need for energy efficiency and sustainability increases, so does the demand for the expertise of ESCO-certified companies. Eaton is honored to be included among such a prestigious list of energy companies, utilities and other organizations that represent sustainability, energy efficiency and power management.”

According to information on the website of DOE's Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP), federal agencies can use two different types of ESCOs — those that have competed for and been awarded a master DOE energy saving performance contract (ESPC), and “qualified” ESCOs that have been screened by a Qualifications Review Board composed of representatives of the Federal Interagency Energy Management Task Force and DOE.

The FEMP website also offered some insight into how much the government is spending annually on these contracts and the types of work done at these facilities. During 2010, the DOE awarded $1.14 billion in contracts for work at government facilities that included upgrades to lighting and building automation systems, upgrades to boilers, chillers and HVAC systems, and the installation of renewable energy systems. These contracts guarantee the government $1.16 billion in energy savings. Since the inception of the DOE's energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs) in 1998, 262 DOE ESPCs have been awarded, and more than $2.3 billion has been invested in federal energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements.