Smart meters are just one aspect of the new electric infrastructure generally known as the smart grid, but for consumers, they are the most visible. Utilities in California, Texas and other states have led the way on installing the meters, which can relay information about a household’s energy use back to the grid.
A new report, however, predicts that smart meter installations will drop more than 35 percent through 2014 in North America, due to the depletion of stimulus money granted by the first-term Obama administration. The research and consulting firm Navigant produced the report, “Smart Grid: 10 Trends to Watch in 2013 and Beyond,” with an eye toward the many vendors who hope to make a profit from ongoing industry moves to overhaul the nation’s aging electricity infrastructure. It paints a picture of a $500 billion effort that is moving forward, but in fits and starts.
“While technologies such as smart metering have been around for more than a decade, it is tough to claim that any aspect of the smart grid is a mature market,” the report’s authors write. It sees the smart meter market recovering slightly in 2015, “followed by basically flat shipments for several years.”
Worldwide, the smart meter market is expected to grow overall through 2020 after a dip in 2015, with Asia contributing most to the growth. “Massive smart meter rollouts in China will continue in the near term as the country endeavors to fulfill its goal of deploying some 300 million smart meters by mid-decade,” the report says.
Smart meters have met with small, but vociferous pockets of resistance from opponents who fear they will relay more about a household’s energy use than the homeowner might care to disclose. (See related story: “Who’s Watching? Privacy Concerns Persist as Smart Meters Roll Out.“) Others fear radiation from the meters, even though such fears have not been justified by any major scientific study.
But for the majority of U.S. homes, smart meter installations have progressed without incident, and utilities say that the meters are helping them provide better service to customers. Indeed, many customers are the opposite of curious when it comes to learning what their smart meter does. That’s a problem for utilities, who want consumers to feel as invested in smart meters as they are. To help illuminate the benefits, many utilities are providing customers with an easy way to access their own smart meter data via the “Green Button Initiative”—but the technology is still pretty, well, green. (See related post: “The Green Button Initiative One Year Later: Got Energy Data?“)
Still, smart meters are an important factor in trend no. 3 on Navigant’s smart grid list. The “home energy management” (HEM) market will gain momentum in 2013, it says, crediting utility savings programs, new construction and consumer interest in cost-cutting technology, among other factors. (Examples of HEM products and services would be a smart thermostat such as Nest, or an app that helps you manage your energy information.)
Smart meters also figure in another prediction on Navigant’s list, one that should offer comfort to millions of consumers who have sat in the dark with melting foodstuffs in the freezer during an outage after a storm. Disaster recovery and service restoration will become more efficient in the coming years, the report says: “Disaster plans are being revised and improved, especially after recent catastrophic events have caused massive amounts of damage and widespread outages.” Meters help utilities pinpoint service outages, while other smart grid technologies, along with new work-force management tools, help limit damage and speed repairs.