China is now outspending the US on the installation of smart-grid technology, investing as much as $4.3 billion in 2013, according to new research from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF).
Much of China’s spending last year went on the rollout of some 62 million smart meters, bringing the total number it has deployed to just less than 250 million.
Although China has postponed its target for completing its metering program to 2017, from an original deadline of 2015, spending on smart grids in North America totaled just $3.6 billion in 2013 – 33% less than in 2012 – as the last of the US stimulus-funded projects wound down.
BNEF says that global smart-grid spending reached $14.9 billion in 2013, up from $14.2 billion in 2012, with smart meters accounting for must under half of the figure.
Spending on distribution automation and other integrated demonstration projects rounded out the total, says BNEF.
Elsewhere, there were promising developments in a number of European markets, including the award of metering contracts in the UK, a new tender in France and the completion of a long-awaited cost-benefit analysis in Germany.
Meanwhile, Japanese utilities are still at the tendering and procurements stages of their deployments, while Brazil’s smart-metering rollout is being delayed by certification and financing challenges.
BNEF calls Europe “the smart grid’s sleeping giant”, expecting the number of smart meters deployed to rise sharply from 55 million today to 180 million by 2020.
It also says the US is entering a second major smart grid phase of “information integration”, which will involve using data generated by the smart grid to improve areas like outage management, customer segmentation and theft detection.
“Global investment in the smart grid increased relatively modestly last year after five years of rapid growth,” said Colin McKerracher, senior energy-smart technologies analyst at BNEF. “But the fundamental drivers of the smart grid – greater grid reliability, further integration of renewable energy, and improved demand-side management – are stronger than ever.”
“Asian and European markets will drive growth through 2020, while in North America the focus will continue to shift from hardware to software as utilities look to squeeze additional value out of the vast amounts of grid data now available,” he added.