Evolution of the U.S. Energy Service Company Industry: Market Size and Project Performance from 1990-2008

TitleEvolution of the U.S. Energy Service Company Industry: Market Size and Project Performance from 1990-2008
Publication TypeJournal Article
LBNL Report NumberLBNL-5447E
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsLarsen, Peter H., Charles A. Goldman, and Andrew Satchwell
JournalEnergy Policy
Start Page802
Date Published11/2012

The U.S. energy service company (ESCO) industry is an example of a private sector business model where energy savings are delivered to customers primarily through the use of performance-based contracts. This study was conceived as a snapshot of the ESCO industry prior to the economic slowdown and the introduction of federal stimulus funding mandated by enactment of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

This study utilizes two parallel analytic approaches to characterize ESCO industry and market trends in the U.S.: (1) a “top-down” approach involving a survey of individual ESCOs to estimate aggregate industry activity and (2) a “bottom-up” analysis of a database of ~3,265 projects (representing over $8B in project investment) that reports market trends including installed EE retrofit strategies, project installation costs and savings, project payback times, and benefit-cost ratios over time. Despite the onset of an economic recession, the U.S. ESCO industry managed to grow at about 7% per year between 2006 and 2008. ESCO industry revenues are relatively small compared to total U.S. energy expenditures (about $4.1 billion in 2008), but ESCOs anticipated accelerated growth through 2011 (25% per year).

We found that 2,484 ESCO projects in our database generated ~$4.0 billion ($2009) in net, direct economic benefits to their customers. We estimate that the ESCO project database includes about 20% of all U.S. ESCO market activity from 1990-2008. Assuming the net benefits per project are comparable for ESCO projects that are not included in the LBNL database, this would suggest that the ESCO industry has generated ~$23 billion in net direct economic benefits for customers at projects installed between 1990 and 2008. We found that nearly 85% of all public and institutional projects met or exceeded the guaranteed level of savings. We estimated that a typical ESCO project generated $1.5 dollars of direct benefits for every dollar of customer investment. There is empirical evidence confirming that the industry is responding to customer demand by installing more comprehensive and complex measures—including onsite generation and measures to address deferred maintenance—but this evolution has significant implications for customer project economics, especially at K-12 schools. We found that the median simple payback time has increased from 1.9 to 3.2 years in private sector projects since the early-to-mid 1990s and from 5.2 to 10.5 years in public sector projects for the same time period.

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