On a fundamental level, the smart grid is the merging of two networks: the power network, consisting of the electrical generation, transmission, and distribution grid, and the modern communications network, which enables voice, video, and data communications for billions of endpoints around the world. As such, networking and communications technologies are at the core of utility smart grid deployments, and have been the focus of significant attention and fierce debate by industry players.

A new report from Pike Research forecasts that 276 million smart grid communications nodes will be shipped worldwide during the period from 2010 to 2016, with annual shipments increasing dramatically from 15 million in 2009 to 55 million by 2016. The cleantech market intelligence firm expects that this will represent a total industry investment of $20.3 billion during the seven-year forecast period, with annual revenues increasing from $1.8 billion in 2009 to $3.1 billion by 2016, despite rapidly falling average selling prices (ASPs) per node.

“The greatest myth of the smart grid is that there will be one communications technology to rule them all,” said senior analyst Bob Gohn. “The reality is that smart grid networks will be as diverse as the internet, including fixed and wireless, public and private, standard and proprietary technologies. Different technologies will lead in various application categories, based on their respective cost and performance characteristics.”

Gohn added that advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) nodes for smart meters will be the largest communications equipment category over the next several years, followed distantly by home area network (HAN) nodes and network interface converters. Smaller node categories include generalized grid routers, AMI concentrators, wide area network (WAN) backbone nodes, substation routers, and substation ethernet switches.

Pike Research’s report, “Smart Grid Networking and Communications,” examines the global market opportunity for communication technologies in all areas of smart grid operations, from the utility substation to the home area network. The report analyzes key technology decisions being made by utilities with regard to wired and wireless, public and private, standard and proprietary networks. Key industry players are profiled and detailed market forecasts are provided through 2016, segmented by region, application, device, and technology.