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Riding the wireless network to the smart grid

Smart-meter provider SmartSynch gets $20 million in funding, led by Credit Suisse.

If SmartSynch gets its way, your utility meter will have its own address on the Internet.

The smart-grid company on Thursday announced that it has raised $20 million, led by Credit Suisse, to invest in development and sales of its networked utility meter technology. To date, the 8-year-old company, based on Jackson, Miss., has raised $80 million.

Joining the Internet: an electricity meter. Martin LaMonica/CNET

Technologies to upgrade the electricity grid is one of the most active of the clean-tech area. A number of smart-grid companies are building software to better operate the power grid or build "smart meters" that can communicate usage information between customers and utilities.

SmartSynch makes communications devices and software that go into smart meters.

Its gear gives meters their own Internet Protocol (IP) address and uses wireless networks used for cell phones to communicate information back to utilities.

Using the existing wireless networks gives two big advantages to utilities, said the company's CEO Stephen Johnston.

First, they don't need to build their own network, either by upgrading existing infrastructure or establishing a broadband-over-powerline network.

Secondly, utilities can take advantage of new wireless networks, such as WiMax or municipal Wi-Fi, as they become available since SmartSynch uses IP, he said.

Its systems are used by 75 utilities, which are using the metering technology mostly to cater to commercial and industrial customers. For example, a business could sign up for an energy efficiency program where it agrees to let a utility dial-down usage during peak times.

SmartSynch introduced a residential smart meter, which will double or triple the number of products installed in the next few years, Johnston said. It now has 120,000 installed.

In a statement, Nadim Barakat, a managing director in Credit Suisse's Customized Fund Investment Group, said that its investment was driven by the anticipated demand in smart-grid technologies.

"Utilities are deploying smart-meter technology at a rapid rate to avoid the difficulty of building and permitting new power plants, to prepare for impending carbon regulation and more importantly because managing electricity use at a granular level opens up new business opportunities with customers," he said in a statement.