Brazil: The Next Hot Smart Meter Market

Will Brazil be the next big market for smart meters? With a government mandate calling for the installation of about 62 million digital, networked electric meters by decade’s end, South America’s biggest country (pop. 201 million) is definitely becoming a target — and Silver Spring Networks is the latest to put the country in its sights.

Silver Spring — the smart grid networking startup considered most likely to IPOannounced this week it would work with Swiss metering giant Landis+Gyr on a smart grid solution for Brazil. Silver Spring also announced that it incorporated in Brazil earlier this year with an office in the country’s business center of São Paulo.

Landis+Gyr, in turn, has developed the first smart meter system to be approved by Brazilian regulators, and has set a target of deploying 200,000 meters in the near future. Itron (s ITRI) is also a big player in Brazil, and Esco Technologies subsidiary Aclara has been targeting the country, along with other Latin American countries such as Colombia, for the past few years.

Then there’s Echelon (s ELON), which last year partnered with ELO Sistemas Electronicos to supply the Brazilian meter manufacturer with its NES smart meter technology. Brazil has steep tariffs that encourage smart meter vendors to either build factories in the country, as Itron and Landis+Gyr have done, or partner with local manufacturers, as Echelon did (pdf).

ELO serves some 40 electric power distributors in Brazil with a combined 55 million customers, and also works in other Latin American countries. It hasn’t yet rolled out its Echelon-enabled meters beyond undisclosed pilot projects, but is considering it for projects in Brazil and across South America, Jeff Lund, Echelon’s vice president of business development, told me in an interview on Wednesday.

Brazil’s a tempting market for smart meter makers, partly because the country’s utilities tend to have many millions of customers apiece, said Ben Schuman, analyst with Pacific Crest Securities. While the country has moved slowly to set guidelines for its smart meter mandates, it could see some mass deployments as early as 2012, and could become one of the biggest smart meter markets of the world by the second half of the decade, he said.

As one of the first South American countries to plan nationwide smart metering, Brazil could also be an important testing ground for deployments in the rest of the continent. As with emerging markets like India, stopping power theft and fixing too-frequent power outages are key functions that Latin American utilities want out of their smart meter networks.

Echelon’s partnership with ELO also shows how technology from U.S. and European smart meter vendors could find its way into domestic metering companies — a trend that could open the Latin American market to smart meter system-on-a-chip makers as well.

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Image courtesy of Cplbasilisk via Creative Commons license.