Itron In Deal With Panasonic For Huge Japanese Smart Meter Market

Over the next 10 years, Japan will install some 80 million smart electric meters. Itron, the 35-year-old Washington utility metering technology provider, just landed a big deal with Panasonic that should help it get a slice of that market.

Itron (NASDAQ: ITRI)—based in Liberty Lake, WA, just east of Spokane near the Idaho border—said Friday that it struck a strategic alliance with the Japanese electronics multinational to develop smart meters for sale to electric utilities.

The deal calls for Itron to make smart meters with 3G cellular communications capabilities, but they will also support radio frequency mesh and power line carrier communications options, the company says.

Itron, which had $2.4 billion in 2011 revenue, is one of the Washington companies that gives the state a legitimate claim to leadership in the provision of hardware, software and services to enable the smart grid.

Pike Research forecasts some 960 million smart meters will be installed globally by 2020. Growth in North America is expected to slow in the coming year as major utility programs launched over the last four years reach their conclusions.

But this slowdown “will be overshadowed by growth in Europe and Asia Pacific, particularly China,” according to Pike senior research analyst Neil Strother. The 80 million smart meters in Japan could represent roughly 8 percent of the global market by Pike’s forecast.

The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has mandated the shift to smart meters, which unlock a range of new scenarios for managing the demand side of the electricity grid. The Fukushima disaster and subsequent shift away from nuclear power in Japan has forced the country to re-imagine its energy system.

Major Japanese electronics companies are gearing up to compete. Toshiba, for example, acquired Swiss company Landis+Gyr, an Itron competitor, for $2.3 billion in 2011.

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