By 2020, every nation in the European Union is supposed to have 80 percent of its utility customers connected to a smart meter of some kind. That’s promising to make Europe the next hot spot for advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), whether it be in huge national prize markets like Spain and France, or tempting yet competitive markets like Germany and the U.K..

Let’s not leave out Central and Eastern Europe, either. A new report from Northeast Group predicts that Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic will collectively spend $10.3 billion on smart meters over the next ten years, as each takes its path toward meeting its EU mandates.

Just how and when that investment commitment will translate into real-world deployment is harder to predict. As the report states, “All EU countries were meant to complete smart metering cost-benefit analyses by September 2012, but fewer than half of the ten CEE [Central and Eastern European] countries have done so.” And, while most have claimed they’ll meet the EU timelines, they haven’t put those promises into law yet, the report noted.

Exceptions to this rule exist, however. Estonia plans to deploy smart meters to all its customers by 2017, and last year, big distribution network operator Elektrilevi signed an eight-year contract with Ericsson to connect some 630,000 smart meters via 2G and 3G cellular. IDC Energy Insights reported in late 2011 that Poland and the Czech Republic had smart metering plans in place worth a collective $400 million in investment.

Utilities in Bulgaria, Romania, and Slovenia also have plans for full smart meter rollouts, Northeast Group’s report noted. AMI vendors working in and around the region include Echelon, Landis+Gyr (now owned by Toshiba), Elster, Itron and Trilliant, to name some leading contenders.

In the Central and Eastern European countries where smart meter cost-benefit analyses have been conducted, “the result has almost always been positive,” the report added. Just how those elusive long-term benefits play out against the other pressing energy, financial and national infrastructure needs faced by Europe’s constituent nations is another matter, of course.  

GTM Research has predicted that Europe will see 100 million smart meters deployed between 2012 and 2017, with a lot of variability in deployment schedules from country to country. To put Northeast Group’s Central and Eastern European predictions into contrast with other nations, the U.K. plans to spend up to $7.5 billion on the communications infrastructure for its 53 million smart meter nationwide rollout, and France plans to spend $5.5 billion to deploy 35 million meters by 2020, starting next year.

Eastern Europe also has higher transmission and distribution losses and longer and more frequent outages than Western Europe, the report notes. That could provide incentive for utilities to deploy smart meters with voltage fluctuation detectors, power quality sensors and other such grid-focused capabilities, as well as anti-tampering and theft detection systems to prevent power pilfering.