European smart-meter market takes off

The market for smart meters is still in its nascence in North America, but it is already taking off overseas. The installed base of smart electricity meters in Europe will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 16.2% between 2008 and 2014, reaching 93.6 million homes over those six years, according to Sweden-based analyst firm Berg Insight.

Based on this level of uptake, Europe is on track to reach its target of 80% of households with smart meters by 2020. To date, Sweden is the first country in the world to achieve 100% penetration for smart meters, driven by its decision to make them mandatory from July 2009 on – a move that Tobias Ryberg, senior analyst at Berg Insight, said kick-started a trend for the rest of Europe.

In the report, Ryberg noted that some countries are slower moving than others due to resistance from certain stakeholders. Netherlands, in particular, postponed its rollout for fear it would be perceived as a surveillance technology, Ryberg said, although noting that the privacy threat from smart meters is grossly exaggerated.

Smart meters are one component of the smart grid system, which also includes wireless technology, sensors and software. The meters, in particular, are put in place to provide consumers with detailed information about their electricity consumption, so they can better control it, as well as see financial incentives for doing so. The smart-grid market has huge money-making potential too, getting everyone from telcos to utilities to Google excited about the possibilities.

Although the political drivers are different depending on the country, smart grids are beginning to take off in North America as well. AT&T sees smart meters as the starting point to take the telco up through all parts of smart grid power production. It first partnered with smart-meter provider SmartSynch in March and last week inked another deal with utility company Cooper Power Systems to sell smart-grid services over its wireless data network. Qwest Communications also got involved in North America, announcing a partnership with Current Communications to sell smart grids to utilities. These telcos and others are still figuring out their role in smart-grid deployments, whether as the transport mechanism or as the utility service provider, but - either way - if North America follows Europe, it’s a movement they won’t want to ignore.

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