1. Top Smart Meter Maker: Itron

When it comes to smart meters, Itron Inc. (NSDQ: ITRI) is top dog.  The Spokane, Wash.-based smart meter manufacturer holds the top spot for market share in North America and worldwide, according to the company's most recent data. It got its early lead with so-called AMR (automatic meter reading) meters, which broadcast but do not receive data, and has leapt out to a lead with two-way communicating meters in the so-called AMI (advanced meter infrastructure) market as well.

Big AMI contracts include Southern California Edison (about $480 million and 5.3 million meters), CenterPoint Energy (about $350 million and 3 million meters), DTE Energy (about $350 million and 3.3 million meters) and San Diego Gas & Electric (about $260 million and 2.3 meters).

Itron is also noteworthy for having pioneered the radio mesh technology that has emerged as the preferred way for smart meters to "talk to" one another in neighborhood area networks – though Itron's "OpenWay" RF mesh system isn't part of every deployment (Silver Spring Networks has been the chosen vendor for that function for many projects).

That's not to say that competitors aren't eager to take the top spot. Swiss-based Landis+Gyr and Silicon Valley-based Echelon are particularly strong in Europe, and fellow smart meter makers Sensus, Elster and General Electric are all competitors worldwide.

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