Worldwide smart meter shipments surpassed 20.6 million units in the fourth quarter of 2012 (4Q12), representing year-over-year growth of 182.7% and a 33.9% increase over the third quarter of 2012, according to the IDC Energy Insights Worldwide Quarterly Smart Meter Tracker.

Europe and the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) standards market lead the first wave of smart metering, beginning with Enel's deployment in Italy a decade ago. The IEC market was overtaken by the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) market in 2009, as mandated deployments and ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funded projects began to gain steam in North America. In 2012, momentum has again shifted back towards the IEC markets, lead this time by the methodical establishment of smart metering infrastructure in China.

The wave of ARRA projects has crested, and shipments in the Americas continue to decline, falling 10.8% quarter over quarter and 47.7% year over year. Shipments in EMEA have increased 1.9% over 3Q12 and 36.6% year over year, though growth has thus far proven much more modest than projected by the EU 20-20-20 plan. Meanwhile, smart meter shipments in Asia/Pacific are driving the global AMI market, exploding by 48.9% sequentially and 779.6% year over year.

"The market for basic smart metering systems continues to expand," said Dean Chuang, senior research analyst for IDC Energy Insights. "Much of the activity we've observed in recent quarters has been targeted towards basic infrastructure and operational issues, such as billing and non-technical loss. Conversely, deployments in more mature markets have slowed, as global economic uncertainty has increasingly driven utilities and regulators to reflect upon the near-term cost/benefit of AMI deployment. Utilities and vendors are still learning how to communicate the benefits of AMI as foundational infrastructure; we expect activity to pick-up as the industry develops experience with AMI and continues to integrate applications beyond billing."