Germany, usually at the forefront of energy technology adoption in Europe, has long held reservations over smart metering. Privacy issues have always been a concern among a small, but vocal, minority who are not comfortable with the idea of energy utilities having access to when and how consumers use electricity. However, the assumption in the industry was that Germany would eventually fall into line and accept that smart meters must be deployed. This may not happen though and a potential German rejection of smart meter could pose a threat to $44 (EUR33) billion of smart grid investment.

Frost & Sullivan Energy Analyst, Neha Vikash explains: "The EU Energy Efficiency Directive mandates for 80 percent of households in Europe to have smart metering by 2020. The exception to the Energy Efficiency Directive is if a country can prove that smart metering would not pass a cost benefit analysis."

Last August, Germany's Economy Ministry published such as report, carried out by external consultants, rejecting smart meters as too expensive to deliver economic benefits. "The report has shocked the industry and could have major ramifications, although it should be pointed out that the report could still be rejected by the German government," continues Neha.

Germany has 48 million meters and the replacement of them over a five- to seven-year period would have generated an estimated $8 (EUR6) billion revenues for smart meter and communications manufacturers. This amount does not include the estimated $10 (EUR7.5) billion that would be spent on supporting infrastructure, project management and installation (numbers based on Frost & Sullivan's internal forecasts made for the upcoming Global AMI report to be published in the Autumn). "If Germany instead decides to install smart meters only when existing meters need replacing, this would be a massive blow to the industry," says Neha. Approximately 90 percent of Germany's meter are electromechanical and these can have a working life of anywhere from 20-40 years.

The situation for meter manufacturers could worsen if other countries follow Germany's lead. "If a country with the political strength of Germany opts out," adds Vikash. "It could embolden EU countries to follow suit. Prior to the German announcement, the UK government had already announced it would delay its rollout by one year to allow further consultation - could this be scrapped or delayed further?"

Excluding Germany, there are an estimated 180 million residential meters in the EU, and of these approximately a third are either already smart or in countries with smart rollouts that are underway and unlikely to be stopped. This leaves 120 million meters. Assuming 80 percent of the 120 million meters in Europe were to be replaced by 2020, this would mean an estimated 96 million meters being replaced at an estimated $12 (EUR9) billion, and this does not take into account the support infrastructure and installation costs which would be an estimated $14 (EUR10.5) billion.

"The German government may reject this report and go ahead with the rollout. Other countries may ignore Germany and install smart meters regardless. But with $44 (EUR33) billion in the balance, this development has got everyone in the industry concerned," concludes Vikash.