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Smart meters cracking into U.S. homes

An important component to taking advantage of off-peak electricity rates, smart meters are being installed in large numbers, but barriers to the smart grid remain, says a new study.

The number of smart electricity meters with two-way communications is poised to mushroom in the next two years, according to a study.

Research company Park Associates this week released figures for smart-meter installations in the U.S., saying that there are 8 million units installed, or about 6 percent of all meters.

Martin LaMonica/CNET

As utilities upgrade equipment as part of smart-grid trials, the number of smart meters is forecast to grow to 13.6 million installed next year and to over 33 million in 2011.

Having a method to broker regular communications between a utility and a customer will set the foundation for a widening array of home-energy management tools, said Bill Ablondi, Park Associates' director of home systems.

Home energy management systems can be relatively simple displays or Web-based programs that show how much electricity a home is using. More high-end systems can be built around home-area networks where consumers can program smart appliances and lighting to cut power consumption.

The enabling technology for the more sophisticated home-energy management systems includes various wireless communications options for within the home and for smart meters. But even though many of the technology components are now available, there are a number of barriers to widespread adoption of the smart grid, even with billions of stimulus dollars targeted for smart-grid programs.

Upgrading the electricity distribution system is expensive and variable pricing structures that reflect the cost of peak-time electricity could take a long time to be implemented, Ablondi said in a recent presentation. Also, consumer interest in managing energy, which is high right now, could wane, he added.

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