China has outpaced the US for the first time in terms of smart grid investment, according to new research.  

Data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) reveals that China spent $4.3bn on smart grid projects in 2013, with a large part of that going on the installation of 62 million meters, bringing its total of fitted meters to just under 250 million.

China now has more than twice as many smart meters installed as the total number of households in the US, where smart grid spending is slowing down. According to BNEF, the North America market “shrunk significantly in 2013”, falling 33 per cent to $3.6bn, mainly because of the winding down of stimulus-funded meter

BNEF states that globally, smart grid investment reached $14.9bn last year, up from $14.2bn in 2012.

Investment on metering accounted for just under half of total smart grid spending worldwide, with the remainder of the total accounted for by distribution automation and other integrated demonstration projects.

BNEF says that there were promising signs in 2013 on smart metering in Europe, including a large metering contract in the UK, a new tender in France and completion of the long-awaited cost benefit analysis in Germany.

In Asia, Japan’s utilities are in the tendering and procurements stages of their deployments while in Latin America, Brazil’s smart metering roll-out is being delayed by certification and financing challenges.

As well as reflecting on 2013, BNEF also looks ahead to possible developments and predicts growth across the world.

It states that Asia “still has years of growth ahead. Despite China’s recently announced slowdown in meter installation, China’s 5-10 year meter replacement cycle means that as this major wave of installations finishes in 2017, the first wave of replacements is expected to commence.”

The US meanwhile is “entering a second major smart grid phase: information integration. With its growing penetration rates for smart meters and distribution automation, the next phase for the US smart grid is using the new data coming in off the grid to improve areas like outage management, customer segmentation and theft detection.”

And BNEF calls Europe “the smart grid’s sleeping giant”. It says that while Europe has so far only installed 55 million smart meters, this is expected to rise sharply to 180 million by 2020. “Spain will remain as the most active market in 2014 but large-scale deployments in the UK, Germany and France will begin to ramp up in late 2015.”

BNEF’s senior energy-smart technologies analyst Colin McKerracher said: “Global investment in the smart grid increased relatively modestly last year after five years of rapid growth. 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.”