Most of the utilities have been forced to improve their measurement and monitoring network structure. And the most proactive of them all is the Italian Electricity Company Enel spa with around 33 million meters installed till date.
"Smart meters form an integral part of the bigger movement towards the smart grid", explains Frost & Sullivan research analyst, Vikas Ravindran who is working on a study on this subject." Smart Meter is a new type of electrical, water or gas meter that besides retaining its basic function of keeping track of the overall energy consumption also has the ability to communicate data to and from the utilities, ensuring transparency and monitoring the efficient energy usage of different appliances. Smart meters also enable utilities to vary the price of electricity in real time. This means that consumers would consume less at times of higher demand thereby cutting emissions, costs and pressure on the grid".
As mentioned, certain countries have already started implementing smart meters and the most proactive of them all is Italy with around 32.1 million meters installed till the end of 2008. This was achieved by one of the biggest and most foremost European utilities Enel SpA at an estimated overall cost of more than €2 billion.
Canada and United States are also not far behind in the race. The initial target set by the Canadian government of 800,000 homes by 2007 has been well surpassed with more than 260,000 meters installed just in Ottawa. In the United States as part of President Obama's economic stimulus package, $4.5 billion has been allocated for research related to smart grids, also known as the "Smart Grid Investment Program". In California, the program to roll out 9 million gas and electric smart meters has been approved by energy regulators. In other parts of the world too similar projects have been commissioned, namely in Australia where the Essential Services Commission of Victoria, has rolled out a timetable to install 1 million smart meters by 2013. Even developing countries like India are looking towards smart grids and smart metering.
Things however look different in the UK. The UK government's estimate of the total expenditure for smart meter is expected to fall short by £6 billion. UK often referred to as the "Dumb" market for smart meters is still lagging behind compared to the other regions, mainly due to its poor design of the market, which prevents widespread adoption of metering innovation. In order to ensure that the market picks up we need to take a look at the bigger picture, and in particular at appropriate realization of existing strategies, assessment of a most realistic cost benefit plan, harmonization of technical and regulatory requirements in Europe to facilitate easier adoption of smart meters.
"The market in Europe is primarily driven by legislations", explains Frost & Sullivan analyst Vikas. "Liberalization of the energy market in 2007 along with the evolution of favorable regulatory frameworks has opened up the market. Apart from the legislations, increasing electricity prices and growing awareness at the consumers end to reduce their energy bills as well as the need to control energy consumption levels stated by policies and commitments related to energy efficiency have been instrumental in driving this market".
With the legislations in place the next logical step is its effective implementation and ensuring a smooth transition from the legacy meters to the new smart ones. However, this has not happened as expected in Europe. The Energy Services Directive which was to be transposed into a law by 2008 has not taken place yet. Apart from the legislations, the industry's main restraint is interoperability – when one energy supplier installs a particular type of smart system into a property, a different supplier should be able to use the basic functions of it, if the customer should choose to change.
The co-operation of all stakeholders involved - utilities, manufacturers, venture capital firms, financial firms, T&D equipment suppliers, governmental organisations - can be vital to the booming market across Europe.
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