Here’s the good news: research firm IHS (formerly iSupply) says global smart meter sales will grow from 20.5 million this year to 62 million by 2016, while revenues from the chips inside them will double from $505.6 million to $1.1 billion in the same time.
Here’s the bad news: those projections are worse than they were a few years ago. A faltering global economy is mostly to blame, says IHS. But so are those pesky consumers, who have been pushing back against smart meter deployments that help utilities save money but don’t do anything for their customers.
Consider it a holiday season snapshot of a smart meter industry still growing, but not with the same rosy expectations that were widespread back in the go-go days of 2009 and 2010. Since then, U.S. utilities have been spending billions of federal stimulus dollars on rolling out tens of millions of smart meters, but those funds have mostly run dry, and it's highly unlikely we’re going to see another boost of cash from Congress.
Meanwhile, Europe’s vaunted goals of having 80 percent of its electricity meters replaced with smart, two-way communicating models by 2020 -- totaling some 180 million smart meters -- could falter on the shoals of that continent’s ongoing economic crisis. GTM Research predicts that Europe’s overall smart grid market would stand at €6.8 billion ($8.9 billion) per year by 2016. But whether or not massive smart meter deployments in France, Germany, Spain and the U.K. move forward as planned will depend on future economic conditions that remain uncertain.
As for getting consumers on board, IHS suggested that linking smart meters to in-home energy management devices could be one way to overcome utility customer pushback against the costs and perceived problems involved with smart meter deployments. Telecommunications companies could be a beneficiary of this trend, with telcos like Verizon pushing in-home connectivity.
What about China’s smart meter potential? We’ve seen reports of companies striving to supply both meters and the semiconductors inside them to meet China’s plans for tens of millions of smart meters in the next five years or so. But the Chinese market will likely involve a different mix of technologies, with lower cost being a primary concern.
Indeed, IHS noted that integrated circuits and system-on-a-chip (SOC) units that combine functionalities like power metering, communications and microprocessors would make up an increasing share of smart meter semiconductor sales in the years ahead.
On a final note, let’s make it clear that the IHS’s projections represent only one of many competing views on the global potential for smart meter sales. For example, the Northeast Group recently predicted that smart meter markets in India, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and Central and South America could add up to $27 billion to $49 billion over the next decade.