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Smart grid investment heats up

Money is flowing to smaller companies that do networking over the power grid or have advanced metering technology as utilities seek tools for energy efficiency.

A handful of smart grid start-ups have announced expansion funding, a sign that utilities are starting to see the technology as a way to meet burgeoning electricity demand.

Broadband over power line (BPL) company Ambient has signed a $10.7 million contract with Duke Energy, according to VentureWire. It raised $2.5 million in January of this year.

The reported deal follows the funding of Redwood City, Calif.-based eMeter, which announced Sunday that it took in $12 million from Siemens, Foundation Capital, and DBL Investors.

eMeter makes software designed to help utilities gather and integrate information generated by advanced meters, which are able to communicate usage information from homes and businesses back to utilities.

Two weeks ago, another smart grid company called GridPoint said that it has raised an additional $15 million and completed a "smart charging" test with Duke Energy.

The companies used GridPoint's smart grid devices to charge plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in a way that doesn't create big spikes in demand and stresses the grid.

There are a number of pilots and programs to test advanced meters and smart grid utility infrastructure, which are supposed to give consumers better control over their usage and provide utilities with a way to curtail demand during peak times.

But making these investments has been difficult for utilities, and some pilot programs were not cost-effective.

Smart meter devices and automated metering infrastructure was one of the top priorities of utilities executives polled by consulting and outsourcing firm Capgemini and Platts, which found that utilities are slowly adopting the technology.

"Some utilities have proceeded with pilots without regulatory assurances, either believing that they will recover the costs or yield other benefits like shaving peak demand to reduce the need for new power generation," John Christiens, vice president of Cap Gemini's energy and utilities practice, said Monday.