Smart Meters Find Growing Support in Europe, Emerging Markets

Love them or hate them, smart meter installations continue at a significant pace.

The focus is shifting, however, from the US to European countries that mandate their deployment and emerging markets that need to better manage their electricity supply.

By the end of 2016, annual worldwide shipments for smart meters will reach 130 million units, reports IDC Energy Insights.

In the second quarter of 2012, global shipments rose 51.3% from a year earlier as European Union members began testing their feasibility, says the research firm in its quarterly smart meter update.

In the US, their use has become controversial and there’s been so much push back from customers that utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric Co. offer customers the option to opt out. People have a range of strong concerns – about privacy (what utilities will do with their data), the health effects of electromagnetic fields from the meters, and whether the data will be used to push through rate hikes. 

Still, smart meters in North America have reached penetration rates of one in three households, according to Chartwell’s  Smart Meters 2012. The data shows that while nearly one in six customers site concerns, few people opt out. 

Smart meters provide the foundation for a smart grid, which enables 2-way digital communication with customers on energy use and choice of rates, identifies outages faster and restores electricity through "self-healing" features.

Oklahoma Gas & Electric Co. believes it will eliminate the need for another power plant when it finishes deploying smart meters throughout its service area. The Recovery Act provided $130 million of the $357 million cost.

Customers can sign up to track their energy use and efficiency and carbon footprint. And they can sign up for a new rate plan that will lower their utility bills. 

The utility expects greater control over energy use to  reduce power consumption during peak hours, which means less need for a new power plant.

"That’s the first benefit customers get when they get that meter," Penny Seale, a Smart Grid communications specialist told the Muskogee Phoenix. "Our overall goal is to reduce demand on the grid so we don’t have to build an additional power plant. Our goal is to not build another one until well after 2020."

"Right now, everyone pays an average cost for electricity, but with the Smart Hours they’ll pay a low, off-peak rate, — about half what they pay now," she explains. Where the meters are already in use, customers paid about $50 less a month on utility bills during June, July and August.

Europe Procrastinates

The EU passed legislation on smart meters and member countries are currently developing regulations that support national policies that mandate their use.. But the market is moving forward slower than many would like.

"The regulatory work, in some cases, is taking longer than previously anticipated, and some stakeholders are afraid that the deadlines initially set at national levels may not be met," says Petr Stabrawa, senior research analyst with IDC Energy Insights EMEA.

"Despite the continuing political commitment to smart metering, these regulatory procrastinations, in combination with ongoing macroeconomic pressures, are currently holding the European smart metering market back," says Stabrawa.

Emerging Countries

Smart meter vendors are also focusing attention on countries like Brazil, Russia, India and China, which are seeking to update their electricity infrastructure, manage rapidly growing power consumption and reduce energy losses.

China will likely lead the world in smart meter installations, with more than 300 million installations planned by the end of 2015.

Brazil’s electricity regulator ANEEL released its smart meter regulations in August, providing a framework that will guide the country’s smart grid rollout.

Brazil plans to invest $27.7 billion in smart grid technology over the next 10 years. That’s a big number but is lower than the original forecast for $36.3 billion, says research firm Northeast Group.

"The August regulations were not the binding mandate that many had expected ANEEL to announce, calling for the replacement of all 63 million meters in Brazil," says Northeast Group. "As a result, we have revised downward our smart meter forecast for the country. At the same time, the regulation provides clarity for utilities and vendors and will help ensure that investment in this multi-billion dollar market will increase in the next few years. A recent wave of merger and acquisition activity in the Brazilian smart grid market shows that firms still see big opportunities in the country."

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