The number of “smart” electricity meters installed worldwide was roughly 49 million in 2007, and is forecast to reach about 76 million this year, according to a new study from ABI Research.

Smart meters, which measure and automatically communicate detailed electrical (or gas or water) usage information to the utility and, in some cases, enable greater consumer awareness and control over consumption, are being deployed at an increasing pace, especially in North America and Europe.

“Utilities need to move to smart metering as a way to address the growth in peak demand, operate more efficiently, provide customers with better service, and respond to environmental imperatives. Smart metering can help on all of these fronts,” says senior analyst Sam Lucero. “They are encouraged in this by regulatory bodies, which use both ‘the carrot’ and ‘the stick’ to promote advances in energy distribution and conservation.”

The current trends in AMI markets represent a continuation of the growth rates charted by ABI Research over recent years. “We don’t think that the economic crisis is having a significant effect,” says Lucero. “Utilities’ smart metering deployments are typically multi-year plans developed in the context of regulated market environments, and not terribly susceptible to short-term economic fluctuations.”

Indeed, there are elements in the economic stimulus packages being implemented by many countries that will further encourage smart metering, Lucero notes, “It’s been reported recently that approximately $4.5 billion of the recently approved stimulus package in the U.S. will go toward Smart Grid initiatives.”

The new report, “Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMM and AMI)” analyzes the market opportunity for smart metering, including the important subset of this market termed “home area networking (HAN),” on a worldwide basis, providing five-year forecasts for numerous components and elements of smart metering and HAN infrastructure. Specific communications technologies considered in the study include fixed RF, powerline, and cellular.