Smart meter shipments gaining steam in Europe and China

The smart meter market is not losing energy any time soon.

Despite a slowdown in the North American market, smart meter deployment will continue to climb steadily through the remainder of this decade, reaching 960 million by 2020, according to a report from Pike Research.

The rollout in European and Asian markets, particularly in China, will create a boon for manufacturing companies, Pike reports.

In 2008, less than four percent of the global installed base of 1.5 billion electricity meters could be considered 'smart,'" Pike analysts said. Four years later, the number increased to 18 percent and is expected to be roughly 55 percent by 2020.

North America, which has led in smart meter installations, is now seeing a slowdown, Pike analysts say.

"We expect to see continued activity in North America, but slower," said senior research analyst Neil Strother who headed the report.

Strother said U.S. federal stimulus money had a lot to do with the strong growth of the smart meter market in North America.

"I liken it to a tidal wave," he said. "You had all of this money coming in from the federal government and now, that wave of activity is receding."

The Pike report examines smart meter shipments for utility companies that service residential customers.

Strother said that smart meters are really bringing consumers into the energy management arena.

"For the most part industrial and commercial facilities have always had in place ways to manage their energy efficiency," he said. "[Smart meters] brings energy management technology down to the consumer level."

While sustainability and labor cost savings are the primary driver in North America for smart meter installation, it’s a different story overseas.

In some Latin American countries, smart meters are helping utility companies better track power consumption, which can decrease electricity theft, a serious problem.

In Europe much of the smart meter growth can be tied to E.U. carbon reduction strategies, while China's needs comes from its growing cities as residents continue to move from rural locations.

Smart meter manufacturers like Echelon are already taking advantage of the growth opportunities overseas. Echelon smart meters were part of Italy's rollout and the company recently announced that it expects to double sales of its smart meters to Russia in 2013.

The California-based company holds market shares of 95 percent in Italy, 60 percent in Denmark, and 40 percent in Sweden.

Varun Nagaraj, senior vice president of product management and marketing at Echelon Corporation said he's excited about the opportunities in the international market.

"As I look at new orders that are going to come in--Eastern Europe, China--I think we're well positioned," he said. "India is also another important area for us."

Aclara President Brad Kitterman said his company is also focusing a lot of its energy outside of North America.

"China and Japan are target areas for us," he said. "We believe we can break into those markets."

Strong regional partnerships with government and utility entities will be important to having success in Asia, Kitterman said.

"We're making sure that we have strong partners that have a good knowledge of the local markets," he said. "We're also plugged into the large state utilities to make sure we understand what the drivers (in the market) are."

Utility companies are only just beginning to tap the potential of smart meters, the Pike report states.

"It completely opens up a lot of new opportunities because now you can capture a lot different data," Strother said. "It feels like the early or mid-90s when the Internet was just getting going."

Pike researchers said even with some consumer concerns, less than one percent chooses to opt out of system.

"The smart utility companies have worked to make sure they engage their customers and provide an option to opt out of the system," Strother said.

Image courtesy of Pacific, Gas and Electric Company