General Electric is trying to secure its place in the Korean smart meter market in partnership with NURI Telecom. Will Korea's utility be interested in what the two companies have to offer?

GE has set its sights on a 300,000-smart meter deployment in Korea over the next, year, according to Bob Gilligan, vice president of transmission and distribution at GE Energy.

GE will provide the meters, and NURI – the Korean company that makes ZigBee-enabled smart meters and has given Gothenburg, Sweden the world's first municipal ZigBee wireless network – will provide the communications, Gilligan said Monday at the GridWeek conference in Washington, D.C.

If all goes well, that could swell to as many as 18 million smart meters in the next five years, he said.

GE's smart meters are being used by U.S. utilities including Commonwealth Edison, Florida Power & Light and Pacific Gas & Electric. In those deployments, startup Silver Spring Networks is providing the wireless mesh communications with units inside GE's meters (see stories here, here and here).

GE is also deploying its meters in Canada, Mexico and the Philippines, Gilligan said. And in Australia, GE is testing out smart meters enabled with WiMax communications from GE-backed startup Grid Net in pilot projects with utilities SP AusNet and Energy Australia (see GE Offers WiMax Smart Meter Solution).

As for NURI, GE has been working with the telecom provider for about two years, in Gothenburg as well as in pilot projects in the United Kingdom, Gilligan said.

In Korea, the natural partner would be national utility Korea Electric Power Corp., or KEPCO.

"KEPCO and the government are interested in deploying technology that involves Korean companies, and in developing technology for export," Gilligan said. GE "can satisfy both objectives."

But it isn't clear whether KEPCO is aiming at residential smart meters as its priority for smart grid spending.

The utility has so far concentrated its smart grid efforts on making its transmission and distribution grids more efficient, Moon-Duk Kim, senior vice president with KEPCO, said Monday during an interview at GridWeek.

Residences are less of a target, since they use relatively less electricity than do homes and apartments in North America and Europe, Kim said.

"Koreans are not using electricity, when they are cooking. They do not use their electricity for drying clothes. Their electricity demand is relatively small," Kim said through an interpreter.

NURI has been busy linking energy management devices in Korean apartment buildings, according to Barry Haaser, executive director of the U-SNAP Alliance, a group seeking to popularize modular communications for smart grid and home energy management devices. That alliance includes NURI and GE (see U-SNAP Gets Google, GE, Utilities to Support Modular Smart Grid Comms).

Kim said Monday that KEPCO would consider the owners of apartment buildings as its natural customers, and deal with them when it came to selecting choices of smart meters or other energy management technologies.

"KEPCO sees an apartment complex as one customer," he said. "It's up to the constructors' needs."

Interact with smart grid industry visionaries from North American utilities, innovative hardware and software vendors and leading industry consortiums at The Networked Grid on November 4 in San Francisco.