Energy-efficiency solutions provider Ameresco Inc. (NYSE:AMRC) has struggled to get traction since the beginning of 2012, but the just-released third-quarter earnings give us a glimmer of hope that things are starting to turn around. Revenue for the period was up almost 5%, and earnings per share of $0.16 was up 60% from last year. 

And while the company beat Wall Street's expectations for both sales and EPS, the stock is trading down the morning after the release. Let's take a look at the highlights of the quarter; there is some positive for long-term shareholders. 

Improvement in key categories 
One of the biggest concerns that investors have had over the past two years is the company's backlog. The projects that Ameresco manages are large, complex, and take a lot of time to complete. Because of this, and the fact that the majority of them are awarded through a competitive bid process, the company must maintain a solid booking of future business. After steadily declining, the company's backlog has actually increased the past four quarters, and at $1.44 billion it is higher than it was at the end of 2013. 

Furthermore, revenue for the year is up about 4% from last year's first nine months, operating income is up 72%, and net income is more than double where it was at this point in 2013. While none of these are mind-blowing improvements, they are steady incremental steps in the right direction. 

Areas of concern 
While incremental improvements are good, the company's guidance for the fourth quarter puts total revenue between $158 million and $188 million, compared to $178 million in the fourth quarter of 2013. Unless it reaches the high end of its guidance, sales in the quarter are very likely to decline again, and that's not reassuring. 

The company is growing its business outside of the U.S., but its nonfederal U.S. revenues continue to decline:

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Source: Ameresco.

This is more of a mixed bag than a concern, but it's a reminder that a core market for Ameresco's growth potential -- U.S. commercial and industrial clients -- haven't really taken to the company's offerings. Considering that this segment was more than half of the company's sales in 2013, and has fallen to 45% this year, this is the trend that probably needs to reverse in order for growth to truly recover. 

Looking ahead 
While well off its 2012 peak, Ameresco is still profitable, and isn't overloaded with debt. Will it ever become the growth story many believed that CEO and founder George Sakellaris -- a real leader in the ESCO industry -- was building? It's hard to say. However, until the economy -- especially the housing and commercial construction sectors -- really recovers, it's probably too early to say one way or the other. 

However, Sakellaris is still running the show, and he has a major personal stake in the company. Historically speaking, the odds are more in favor of the company performing well over time when that is the case. How will Ameresco perform? Only time will tell. 

Jason Hall has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Ameresco. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.