China smart grid set to get smarter: ABI Research

Although some 200 million new electricity meters have been installed across China since the turn of the decade, only about a quarter of these are equipped with the bi-directional technology that facilitates “true” smart meter capabilities, like demand response.

Indeed, rollouts by China’s State Grid Corporation of China (Beijing) and Southern Grid Utilities (Guangzhou) have seen the introduction of both unconnected meters and ones that support only single-direction communications.

Although some 200 million new electricity meters have been installed across China since the turn of the decade, only about a quarter of these are equipped with the bi-directional technology that facilitates “true” smart meter capabilities, like demand response.

Indeed, rollouts by China’s State Grid Corporation of China (Beijing) and Southern Grid Utilities (Guangzhou) have seen the introduction of both unconnected meters and ones that support only single-direction communications.

In short, China’s smart grid does not look that smart – but all that may be about to change.

Such is the view of ABI Research, which says a wave of opportunity is fast approaching for technology providers serving the Chinese market.

According to the market-research company, China’s smart-grid program is reaching a stage where connectivity will come to meters that have already been deployed and ones that are about to be rolled out.

Increasingly, it says, such connectivity will be bi-directional as Chinese utilities expand their smart-grid plans to include the management of meter use as well as the collection of usage data.

The investment needed to deliver bi-directional communications is likely to spur competition between Chinese and overseas technology providers, with ST Microelectronics (Geneva, Switzerland), Silicon Labs (Austin, TX, USA), Echelon (San Jose, CA, USA), Siemens (Munich, Germany) and Landis+Gyr (Zug, Switzerland) all eyeing the market.

“Existing meter specifications have ensured meters deployed over the past five yeasr can be upgraded to support bi-directional connectivity,” said Jonathan Collins, a principal analyst at ABI Research. “This combined with a recent commitment to consider wireless as well as PLC connectivity means there is a growing opportunity for existing and new connectivity hardware providers.”

While Chinese meter manufacturers have so far dominated meter deployments, components often leverage technology and products from overseas suppliers, while the shift to greater connectivity hands an opportunity to non-Chinese players.

ABI Research says many vendors are looking to partner with Chinese manufacturers to take advantage of the opportunity, and that the next 12 months will see the formation of new industry partnerships “as players bid to gain greater traction in the Chinese market”.