U.S. utilities are fast approaching the point where smart meters are the norm, not the exception, with nearly 50 million networked, two-way communicating smart meters up and running across the country as of July 2014. That’s about 43 percent of the country, up from about 33 percent as of mid-2012, according to Wednesday’s report from the Edison Foundation’s Institute for Electric Innovation (PDF).

At the same time, only 4 million new meters were added since July 2013, about the same level of growth as the previous twelve months, but way down from the days when billions of dollars in Department of Energy stimulus grants were fueling the industry. Utilities shopping for smart meters today aren’t looking for matching funds to spend anymore. Instead, they’re asking whether or not smart meters can deliver the benefits in grid operational insight, customer connectivity and distributed energy integration that they’re looking for.

The nonprofit research arm of the utility industry group Edison Electric Institute cited a long list of of AMI benefits being realized by utilities today:

  • Systems Integration. AMI systems integration with outage management systems and distribution management systems is providing enhanced outage management and res­toration and improved distribution system monitoring.
  • Integrating New Resources. Smart meters position the grid as a platform for the integration of distributed energy resources such as distributed generation, community solar, electric vehicles, storage, and microgrids.
  • Operational Savings. Smart meters result in operational savings such as reduced truck rolls, automated meter reading, and reduced energy theft.
  • New Customer Services. Smart meters have enabled services such as automated budget assistance and bill management tools; energy-use notifications; and smart pricing and demand response programs.

At the same time, we’ve noted the periodic surveys and analyses that show that most utilities haven’t yet turned on their smart meter networks’ most advanced features. Automatic connect and disconnect and outage notification tend to be among the first, but fewer utilities are rolling out theft detection, voltage regulation and other grid-facing capabilities.

On the customer front, nearly all AMI-enabled utilities have some sort of web portal for customers to read their day-old energy reports, and more than 8 million smart-metered customers in California, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Oklahoma are eligible for “smart pricing” programs enabled by smart meters. But far fewer have actively encouraged homeowners to start buying smart thermostats or energy monitors and connect them to the smart meter -- or started to mine the interval energy data they’re getting for money-saving patterns and predictions.

Wednesday’s report also noted a distinct geographic distinction between saturated markets like Texas, the West Coast and the mid-Atlantic states, and the Midwest and Rocky Mountain states, where fewer than 15 percent of customers have a smart meter. (None of IEI’s statistics include older automated meter reading technologies.)

Check out the full report (PDF) for a state-by-state breakdown of AMI projects completed, underway and proposed, as well as testimony from utilities happy with what their smart meters are doing for them.