First introduced in the 1920s, power line communications (PLC) systems, which allow data to be sent across power lines, have long been a favorite of utilities because they leverage existing assets. Expanding deployments of advanced metering infrastructure have thrust this type of communication into the spotlight. According to a new report from Pike Research, a part of Navigant’s Energy Practice, total shipments of PLC nodes are projected to reach nearly 68 million units by 2020, up from 41.2 million in 2011. The lion’s share of the market will come from the Asia Pacific region, which will account for almost three-quarters of the shipments in 2020, the study concludes.

“As utilities continue to invest in smart grid infrastructure, PLC systems are often the top choice for connecting electricity or gas meters, rather than wireless based solutions,” says senior research analyst Neil Strother. “In particular, many European and Asia Pacific utilities will deploy PLC-based systems because they can be more affordable, and allow for more rapid deployments than adopting a wireless technology. Although data speeds over PLC systems are typically slower than wireless, PLC does provide a high degree of reliability.”

By sheer number of communications nodes, the bulk of utility-based PLC deployments today are focused on connecting meters. The types of PLC technology being deployed, however, vary widely. Systems range from older, legacy solutions that are used for basic meter reading and line monitoring to high-speed, broadband solutions that are being piloted in several markets. The latter solutions promise to allow a host of advanced applications to run on the same networks as today’s meter reading, load control, and protection circuits – without the need to further upgrade the infrastructure, according to the report.