1. Top Smart Meter Maker: Itron

When it comes to smart meters, Itron Inc. (NSDQ: ITRI) is top dog.  The Spokane, Wash.-based smart meter manufacturer holds the top spot for market share in North America and worldwide, according to the company's most recent data. It got its early lead with so-called AMR (automatic meter reading) meters, which broadcast but do not receive data, and has leapt out to a lead with two-way communicating meters in the so-called AMI (advanced meter infrastructure) market as well.

Big AMI contracts include Southern California Edison (about $480 million and 5.3 million meters), CenterPoint Energy (about $350 million and 3 million meters), DTE Energy (about $350 million and 3.3 million meters) and San Diego Gas & Electric (about $260 million and 2.3 meters).

Itron is also noteworthy for having pioneered the radio mesh technology that has emerged as the preferred way for smart meters to "talk to" one another in neighborhood area networks – though Itron's "OpenWay" RF mesh system isn't part of every deployment (Silver Spring Networks has been the chosen vendor for that function for many projects).

That's not to say that competitors aren't eager to take the top spot. Swiss-based Landis+Gyr and Silicon Valley-based Echelon are particularly strong in Europe, and fellow smart meter makers Sensus, Elster and General Electric are all competitors worldwide.

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2. Smart Meter Networking and Communications Provider: Silver Spring Networks

In the field of giving smart meters new ways to talk to one another, Silver Spring Networks has captured the interest of investors and utilities alike. The Redwood City, Calif.-based startup has inked deals with utilities including Pacific Gas & Electric Co., Florida Power & Light, American Electric Power and others.

All are adding Silver Spring's RF mesh, IP-enabled networking technology to smart meters made by other companies, with the goal of allowing meters to send data from one another to collection points that connect with utility "backhaul" networks – up to 5,000 meters per collection node, the company says.

Silver Spring expects to see about two million meters with its technology deployed by the end of 2009 (see Green Light post), and as of this spring had about $500 million in backlogged orders, a figure that could quadruple by the end of this year, CEO Scott Lang said recently. To bring its technology to market, Silver Spring has raised about $167 million since 2007, including $90 million since October (see Silver Spring Grabs $75M and Green Light posts here and here).

But while Silver Spring has led in terms of mind share, another smart meter networking company has outpaced it in terms of deployments so far. That's fellow Redwood City, Calif.-based startup Trilliant, which announced its millionth device deployed in January. Using an altered version of the 802.15.4 wireless standard to allow meters to mesh with each other and with concentrator points, and fueled with investments including a $40 million round from MissionPoint Partners and zouk ventures, Trilliant has landed deals with more than 100 utilities, including a multimillion meter deployment underway by Ontario, Canada's Hydro One.

And then there's SmartSynch, the Jackson, Miss.-based company that deploys meters with devices that allow them to communicate over existing cellular networks. With a recent announcement that it would partner with AT&T to bring that technology – until now limited to commercial and industrial clients -- to the much larger residential market, SmartSynch could present a challenge to the dominant RF mesh paradigm.


3. In-Home Energy Management: Tendril Networks

The Boulder, Colo.-based startup Tendril has been an early backer of ZigBee, the 802.15.4 wireless standard that is emerging as a favorite for carrying data from smart meters to in-home devices. While it makes an array of devices – in home energy monitoring screens, wall sockets, it has also licensed its software out to third-party device makers, including smart meter manufacturers (see Tendril Targets Meter Makers).

An increasing number of startups making in-home energy monitoring devices are looking at a similar model, given the challenge they face in making their own gear. One startup that focused on software from the get-go is Greenbox Technology, the San Bruno, Calif.-based startup founded by the creators and designers behind Flash. Its web-based dashboard manages data from smart thermostats, appliances and household devices and has been tested with customers in a pilot project with Oklahoma Gas & Electric and Silver Spring Networks.

But all those startups have some heavyweights entering the field to contend with. Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG)  has unveiled a prototype home energy management platform called PowerMeter that it would like to see adopted on a wide scale, and Cisco Systems, fresh from its push to network offices for power savings, has joined forces with General Electric and others to help do the same in a residential smart meter project in Miami (see Google Gets Into Home Energy Management, Cisco Jumps Into Energy Management for Computers, Buildings and A Million Smart Meters for Miami).


4. Building Management and Networking: Echelon

It isn't easy to pick a clear leader in the business of networking commercial and industrial buildings to improve energy efficiency. Several huge players – Johnson Controls, Honeywell, Siemens – incorporate energy efficiency into their building automation offerings.

But among those giants – Johnson Controls being the top pick among analysts for market share – many share the use of a technology for building networking developed by Echelon Corp. And the San Jose-based company, which also has a smart meter business, is hoping its LonWorks platform will serve as the backbone for a new generation of building energy efficiency systems tied into upcoming smart grid deployments (see Echelon Beefs up LonWorks).

While almost all of Echelon's smart meter contracts are in Europe, it is working with Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy in a 60,000 smart meter project in Cincinnati and is hoping to play a role in multi-hundred thousand smart meter deployments the utility is seeking permission to start in Indiana and Ohio.

And Duke's Chief Technical Officer Dave Mohler has said that LonWorks could be a good platform to integrate into the utility's smart grid deployments, given that it's already in place in a lot of commercial buildings.

That being said, Echelon is more dependent on its LonWorks as a share of revenues than are any of the industrial giants that use it for their building automation lines of business – and those giants also offer their own proprietary systems for the task.

In the meantime, a host of startups – Sentilla, Arch Rock and Millennial Net among them – are emerging with wireless solutions (see Sentilla Raises $3.75M To Compete in Data Center Power Fray and Arch Rock's Wireless Energy Optimizers).

Others such as Cimetrics, Tririga, HID Laboratories and Optimum Energy are focusing on specific systems like lights, air conditioning or real estate energy use analysis (see Controlling Energy Consumption, A Million Square Feet at a Time).

And then there's the entry of Cisco Systems into the field, with its EnergyWise platform that will help cut energy use for phones, computers, building HVAC and lighting systems and other commercial office space energy wasters (see Cisco Jumps Into Energy Management for Computers, Buildings).


5. Meter Data Management: eMeter

Once utilities have millions of smart meters in place collecting data in near-to-real-time, the question of how to manage it will arise. To meet that need, utilities have turned to a number of companies offering meter data management services – software that can integrate the new flood of data with utility systems for billing, customer account management and a host of new uses that are expected to emerge.

San Mateo, Calif.-based eMeter has emerged as one of the favorite stand-alone meter data management companies (see eMeter: Data-Keeper for the Smart Grid). It has contracts with utilities including with CenterPoint Energy, Alliant Energy and Southern California Edison, which plans to install 5.3 million meters through 2012.

Others are competing for the market, including smart meter makers themselves. Bloomington, Minn.-based Ecologic Analytics is a startup that has received attention for landing the meter data management contract for Pacific Gas & Electric's multimillion smart meter deployment, among others. And Oracle Corp., with its 2007 purchase of meter data management company Lodestar Corp., could be a big contender in the future.


6. Demand Response: EnerNoc

EnerNoc (NSDQ: ENOC) has built a portfolio of more than 2,000 megawatts under management as of the end of last year – twice the size of its portfolio at the end of 2007 – and has since added another 310 more megawatts in contracts with utilities in Idaho and Maryland. Given that every megawatt that can be curtailed equals a megawatt of new generation capacity utilities don't need to build, that puts EnerNoc in the position of being a bit like a power generator of its own (see In New England, A Demand Response Company Gets Utility-Sized).

But EnerNoc, while a leader in the field, is far from alone in the scope of its business. New York-based CPower has about 2,200 megawatts under management, as does East Hanover, N.J.-based Comverge (NSDQ: COMV). Comverge has distinguished itself in another way – it has made large-scale inroads into residential demand response programs, with about two-fifths of its total megawatts under management coming from homes (see Demand Response: The Home vs. C&I Debate).

An honorable mention also has to go to Foundation Capital. The VC firm invested in EnerNoc, Silver Spring and eMeter, making it the firm with the strongest track record in the field.

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7. Grid Automation Software: General Electric

Nobody should be surprised that General Electric is a major player in smart grid efforts – not to mention one with the cash on hand to run Super Bowl ads pointing out the fact. But beyond the smart meters GE is making, or the wide-area network WiMax radios it's deploying to support smart grid projects (see GE Offers WiMax Smart Meter Solution), the engineering giant is also a provider of a wide range of software aimed at helping utilities optimize grid operations, said Rick Nicholson, vice president of research for IDC company Energy Insights.

GE has been providing grid-management software to utilities for decades, with a most recent iteration deployed by utility American Electric Power in September. But the giant has been pushing into new smart grid fields, acquiring companies with software to manage field automation technologies, grid cybersecurity, and other aspects of smart grid operations.

GE is far from the only company looking to help make the grid smarter with software, of course, Oracle and IBM are providing similar services, and startup GridPoint has raised more than $200 million with the promise of providing a wide array of software to solve the smart grid's challenges of integrating home energy monitoring, distributed energy generation and plug-in vehicles into the grid. (see GridPoint Gets $120M, Buys V2Green and GridPoint to Manage Wind Power Battery Storage).


8. Smart Grid Integration: IBM

IBM's integration work starts with its Global Intelligent Utility Network Coalition, a group of utilities working with the computing giant on smart grid efforts. As part of that, IBM has smart grid pilot projects with utilities including CenterPoint Energy, American Electric Power and Consumers Energy (see IBM Snags Another Smart Grid Deal), and is also part of the first nationwide smart grid project in the island nation of Malta (see IBM Brings Smart Meters to Malta).

IBM also is working on a wide range of research projects, including a collaboration with French utility EDF to develop modeling and optimization technology for integrating smart grid features (see IBM, EDF to Research Smart Grid Tech).

It also is testing new technologies for integrating intermittent energy sources like wind power into grids that are supporting large numbers of plug-in electric or hybrid vehicles (see IBM Tests Smart Charging in Denmark).

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9. Energy Storage: NKG Insulators

Energy storage at the utility level is now accomplished almost entirely with the old-fashioned method of pumping water uphill at low electricity demand times, then letting it spin a turbine when demand is high. But there aren't too many more places to build new pumped hydroelectric projects – and integrating intermittent renewable resources like wind and solar power will require a lot more storage.

While solutions like compressed air energy storage are being promised at prices approaching those of pumped hydro – $250 to $500 per kilowatt-hour – it is limited to sites with power plants and underground caverns able to hold the air (see Startup ES&P to Store Electricity in the Air).

So for distributed storage so far, the largest-scale grid power storage projects underway have used sodium sulfur batteries - and so far, the leading maker of those high-temperature, high-volume batteries is NGK Insulators.

The Japanese company has installed its batteries in wind power storage projects with American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP), Xcel Energy and Tokyo Electric Power Co., which had partnered with NGK to develop the batteries (see Batteries for the Grid and GridPoint to Manage Wind Power Battery Storage).

Sodium-sulfur batteries have high efficiencies and the ability to deliver energy at full power without reducing lifespan or reliability – important considerations for grid storage (see Green Light post). Their problem remains high price – about $4,000 per kilowatt-hour for AEP's project, and still about $3,000 per kilowatt-hour, according to Sam Jaffe, senior research analyst with IDC company Energy Insights.

That could open the way for lithium-ion batteries from companies like A123 Systems and Altair Nanotechnologies to compete in the grid storage field they've just begun to enter, Jaffe said. Altair has small storage projects underway with Indianapolis Light & Power and another with regional transmission operator PJM, and A123 has a project with power generation utility AES Corp., Jaffe said (see A123 Batteries to Help Stabilize Electric Grid).

The key for lithium-ion batteries will be economies of scale that come from meeting what is expected to be a boom in demand from electric and hybrid vehicles, he noted. With billions of federal stimulus dollars earmarked for helping lithium ion battery manufacturers expand in the United States, and President Barack Obama pledging to push for 1 million plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on America's roads by 2015, lithium ion batteries should become a lot less expensive soon, he said.

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10. Utilities: Austin Energy

There are much larger utilities deploying aspects of smart grid developments – smart meter deployments, integrating renewable source of power, energy storage – but Austin, Texas-based municipal utility Austin Energy has something close to a complete smart grid up and running.

Austin's "Smart Grid 1.0" has deployed 410,000 smart meters, and expects to have all of its customers equipped with a smart meter by late summer, said Andres Carvallo, Austin Energy CIO. The utility has also installed 86,000 thermostats that it can control remotely to cycle off during peak load events, as well as about 2,500 distribution grid sensors across its service territory.

Now Austin Energy is preparing for the Pecan Street Project, meant to incorporate renewable energy, energy storage, plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles and energy monitors and smart appliances for customers' homes. The project includes a who's who of high tech companies, including Dell, GE Energy, IBM, Intel, Oracle, Cisco Systems, Microsoft, Freescale Semiconductor and GridPoint.

Of course, other much larger utilities are busy putting the pieces of the smart grid together. A well known example is Xcel Energy and its SmartGridCity pilot project – a $100 million project aimed at bringing smart meters, "smart" substations, and a host of support systems for distributed generation, plug-in vehicles and home energy use controls

And then there are other utilities pushing ahead with different pieces of the smart grid infrastructure in a big way.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has set a milestone for smart meter deployment, recently announcing that it had installed 2.3 million smart meters so far, more than any other utility in the nation.

And American Electric Power has been taking big steps in integrating energy storage into its grid, with plans to install 25 megawatts of storage by next year and 1 gigawatt by 2020, including large-scale and community-level storage (see Green Light post).