Results from IDC Energy Insights' Worldwide Quarterly Smart Meter Tracker found that worldwide smart meter shipments in the fourth quarter of 2011 grew 11.8% over the previous quarter and were up 23.8% when compared to the fourth quarter of 2010. In the accompanying forecast, IDC Energy Insights expects annual smart meter shipments to surpass 140 million units worldwide by 2016, up from 25.4 million in 2011. This represents a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 32.9% over the 2011 to 2016 forecast period.

While IDC Energy Insights expects developing markets to drive smart meter growth through 2016, the revival of the Canadian market and an uptick in shipments to Central and Eastern Europe were the primary drivers in the closing quarter of 2011. In 2012, smart meter shipments in Europe will accelerate as country-level planning continues to progress and the pathway toward the European Commission's "20-20-20" targets finally begins to materialize. Shipments will also ramp up significantly in the Asia/Pacific region as the massive markets in China and India begin to integrate advanced metering infrastructure (AMI). The Japanese market is also gaining momentum with the renewed focus on conservation in the wake of Fukushima, while utilities in Oceana are learning to manage the consumer backlash that emerged from previous deployments.

As the smart metering industry moves through 2016, activity will shift from North America and Europe to the developing world. This shift will be accompanied by an evolution to meet a new set of market needs. Dean Chuang, senior research analyst on the IDC Energy Insights Trackers team, notes "Local deployment patterns are beginning to emerge in the global smart metering industry. Each market and each utility has different needs and different intentions for their AMI system. Smart meter vendors are developing a wide array of solutions to fit the needs of each market."

By 2016, IDC Energy Insight's expects a pronounced difference between AMI in mature markets and upcoming emerging market deployments. Utilities in emerging markets tend to focus more on billing and theft deterrence than customer engagement or next-generation smart grid applications. Additionally, emerging markets have displayed a greater degree of price sensitivity than exhibited at earlier deployments in more mature AMI markets.