Asais, an established French company that makes software for managing grid and utility data, is now part of Itron.

The two companies have been working together for four years on smart grid and metering projects in Europe and Asia. The transaction will close in the first quarter of 2011; terms were not disclosed.

Smart grid companies like Itron, GE and Siemens are in the midst of a shopping spree. ABB has bought three companies since May, including two that exceeded the billion-dollar mark. EnerNoc has bought nine. The overall strategy for many of these companies is to create a portfolio (or bouquet, if you prefer) of services and products for utilities. EnerNoc, for instance, now provides demand response services and building management services that complement each other. Tendril Networks has expanded from home energy management to services that help utilities encourage consumers to curb consumption.

Software firms in particular are acquisition targets. With the grid now becoming a two-way network for communications, applications can now be created that will allow utilities to do things like remote monitoring, data mining, outage monitoring and e-billing.

Nearly all of the large companies are acquirers -- SAP, Oracle, Honeywell (two so far this year), Johnson Controls (notably silent so far), Cisco, etc. -- and nearly every private outfit (e.g., Hara, eMeter, Silver Spring Networks, Sentilla, SynapSense, Power Assure, Adura Technologies, Lumenergi, ENXSuite) is a likely acquisition target.

These acquisitions, though, will also likely make the concept of "smart grid" even more amorphous. Is software for controlling HVAC systems, like the services created by Optimum Energy, a smart grid application? Optimum's software was created for building management and to curb power bills, but if it gets linked into demand management services, it really becomes part of the grid. Are data center management tools part of smart grid portfolios? What if utilities pay to have them installed? How do you classify ice air conditioners?

In September, Itron signed a pact with Cisco to develop an open platform for grid communication.