The United States Air Force may be among the world's biggest fossil-fuel hogs, but at least it's using less energy to keep its service members snug in the wintertime.

Hallowell International is providing the decidedly earthbound technology to help. The Bangor, Maine-based company is installing heat pumps in about 2,000 homes at the McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey.

Using electricity to move heat to where it's wanted – indoors in the winter and outdoors in the summer, generally – is a lot more efficient than using electricity to change air's temperature, it turns out.

Hallowell expects that its Acadia heat pump systems will use about 40 percent less energy than they traditional HVAC units they're replacing, said Duane Hallowell, CEO and president.

They also overcome heat pumps' traditional problems with working in cold climates with new compression technology patented in the United States, Canada and Europe, he said.

It's just one example of the kind of under-the-radar energy efficiency technologies that will soon be going on en masse at government facilities, if the stimulus package's billions of dollars of incentives work as they're meant to.

Counting the piles of money – $4.5 billion to retrofit federal buildings, $3 billion for state energy efficiency programs and $5 billion for weatherization of homes for low-income families, among others – quickly adds up to a lot more than the energy efficiency industry is used to dealing with. The National Association of Energy Service Companies says its members saw total sales of about $3.6 billion in 2006 (see DOE Doles Out $780M for Weatherization and Green Light post).

Factories, office buildings and private homes can also access stimulus funds. But with homebuilding in the dumps, commercial real estate sinking and factories facing a deep drop in demand for their products, private industry is going to need all the support it can get in directing precious dollars to efficiency projects that don't pay themselves back for years.

That makes the government – particularly the federal government – an attractive market right now. President Barack Obama has called for making all federal buildings 25 percent more energy-efficient in the next five years, as well as making sure new buildings are designed to be 40 percent more energy-efficient.

The Department of Energy, which is giving out the energy efficiency stimulus money, has made building energy efficiency a particular focus (see Making Building Automation Brainier).

While some federal agencies are woefully behind the building efficiency times – including the DOE itself – others have already realized the fruits of retrofits.

The U.S. Postal Service, while facing unprecedented declines in its mail-delivering business that are forcing major cutbacks, can at least rely on using less energy at the facilities it retrofitted back in the building boom time of 2006, for example (see The ABC's of Energy Efficiency, Postal Style).

And while certain marquee projects are using high-tech solar panels and fuel cells to generate energy, most of the $106 million or so that Chevron Energy Solutions spent on retrofitting about 400 post offices and distribution centers in the USPS's Pacific region were simply spent replacing old fluorescent tubes with newer, more efficient ones.

LEDs could be another benefactor of federal largesse, if projects like the Pentagon's installation of 42,000 LED lights in one of its five "wedges" are to be replicated. That could help LED makers bridge the cost gap between their products and old-fashioned incandescent and fluorescent lights for indoor lighting (see Green Light post).  

So could be the nascent carbon accounting software business. Companies in the field have already landed military clients (see Enviance to Help 12 Military Bases Manage Carbon Footprint).

HVAC – heating, ventilation and air conditioning – is more expensive to retrofit for efficiency, since the equipment is designed to last so much longer than a light bulb. But it's of particular concern to utilities in states where air conditioning can make up about half of a typical summer afternoon's peak power demand.

That has given entrepreneurs and engineering giants alike reason to come up with more efficient HVAC technologies, particularly those that can shift energy consumption from when it's most expensive to when it's cheapest, usually at night (see Eleven Cool Names and Concepts to Watch in Air Conditioning).

The heat pump is one such technology, though it's been around for years. By shifting the work being done from changing air temperatures to simply moving it around, heat pumps can use 30 percent to 40 percent less energy than traditional home heating and cooling systems, DOE says.

But, DOE's Energy Savers Web site continues, heat pumps tend not to work as well in cold temperatures.

Hallowell sais his company has gotten around that problem, however, with boosted compression that allows the Acadia to run efficiently in temperatures as cold as -30 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hallowell – co-founded by a scientist from HVAC global giant Carrier Corp. – has grown since 2005 to 5,000 installations in the United States and Canada and a distribution network of 4,000 contractor clients and 200 wholesale locations, he said. It's Energy Star

Its McGuire AFB project is being done through military housing provider United Communities, LLC. Hallowell also works in light commercial real estate.

What Hallowell isn't doing is digging holes to harness the constant temperatures that lie underground. Geothermal heat pumps have higher efficiencies and lower long-term operating costs, but cost more to install. Companies such as GroundSource Geothermal, which has devised a new drilling technology, are trying to expand the business.

But they're still a tough sell for retrofit jobs, Hallowell said. At McGuire AFB at least, research into using geothermal heat pumps showed they would take 30 years to pay back, versus less than one year for the Acadia systems, he said.

Image: A housing development in the Navy Lakehurst / Fort Dix / McGuire AFB Complex via Ryan Morton.

Learn how to differentiate your company through greener product lines at Greening the Supply Chain on September 17 in Boston.