Move over, California, Massachusetts is set to take your smart meter crown away.

Well, not really. California utilities are still ahead in deploying two-way communicating gas and electric meters intended to bring real-time energy usage data and power-saving devices and displays to homes and businesses.

But some smart meter pilot projects announced in the Bay State this week indicate that utilities there are looking toward some more significant smart grid investments in the coming years.

National Grid, a utility with operations in New England and New York, has the largest pilot project, worth $57 million and involving 15,000 customers in the western Massachusetts city of Worcester.

Each customer will receive a smart meter and have the option to install smart thermostats and other energy-monitoring devices, the utility said. It also hopes to offer pricing plans that give customers the ability to save money by cutting down on power consumption during peak load times.

The utility is keeping the list of vendors it has selected under wraps for now, though details may emerge as it makes its filing with the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities in the coming days.

It is also making an open appeal to getting part of the $4.5 billion in smart grid project grants contained in the stimulus package signed into law last month, noting that its proposal "can be expanded to cover all of our customers in Massachusetts."

National Grid was an early adopter of so-called automatic meter reading technology, installing meters that send but do not receive data in its upstate New York service area, noted John Quealy, managing director of equity research with Canaccord Adams.

"It's no surprise that they're going to test the latest generation of meter products," he said.

Then there's NStar, which plans a 3,000-customer pilot project in the Boston-area cities of Newton and Hopkinton that involves giving two-way communications abilities to its in-place AMR meters.

The utility will work with Boulder, Colo.-based Tendril Networks to do that, NStar spokesman Michael Durand said Wednesday. Tendril last month revealed it was working with five utilities on projects to link those meters to in-home devices via ZigBee, then linking customers to the utility via existing broadband connections (see Tendril Moves to Link Up Old-School Meters).

While the pilot project is relatively small, "NStar is a decent-sized utility, so this could be a large opportunity for Tendril" said Ben Schuman, analyst with Pacific Crest Securities.

Then there's another New England pilot project for Northeast Utilities subsidiary Connecticut Power & Light, which plans a 3,000-customer smart meter pilot project involving Trilliant, Sensus, Comverge, GoodCents and Accenture.