Power line communications (PLC) systems, which allow data to be sent across power lines, are used in many segments of the electricity grid. The expansion of smart grids is fueling increased utility interest in the technology, specifically the use of PLC to handle communications across the neighborhood area network and to connect electricity or gas meters to each other and the utility’s control center. According to a recent report from Pike Research, a part of Navigant’s Energy Practice, annual revenue from PLC systems for smart grid applications will grow from $283 million in 2012 to more than $418 million by 2020.

“Shipments of PLC nodes will grow steadily over the remainder of the decade, as utilities complete advanced metering initiatives to comply with various mandates and deadlines,” says senior research analyst Neil Strother. “PLC systems offer economic advantages that include lower capital costs compared with other communications systems, as well as the advantage of owning the communications system outright, instead of leasing it from a cellular provider or other third-party entity.”

Earlier PLC systems supported one-way communication, where meter readings would be sent from end devices, such as meters, directly to a master receiver. The modern two-way system, however, allows bi-directional communications between the meter and the utility. Commands can be transmitted out from the utility to the end devices, which allows for a number of more advanced functions.