China finished 2013 as the world’s largest investor in smart grids, outspending the US for the first time, says research from analyst Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

In a market valued at US$14.9bn in 2013, up from US$14.2bn in 2012, China spent US$4.3bn on smart grid technology.

A large part of China’s investment was on the installation of 62 million meters, the research showed.

China has just under 250 million smart meters installed, more than twice the total number of households in the US.

However, the Asian giant says it will add two years to its roll-out completion date, from 2015 to 2017.

Meanwhile, the North American market shrunk by a third in 2013, down to US$3.6bn as the last of the US stimulus-funded projects wound down.

Colin McKerracher, senior energy-smart technologies analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said: “Asian and European markets will drive growth through 2020, while in North America the focus will continue to shift from hardware to software as utilities look to squeeze additional value out of the vast amounts of grid data now available.”

Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that Europe is the smart grid’s sleeping giant. Europe has installed only 55 million smart meters but this is expected to rise sharply to 180 million by 2020.

Spain will remain as the most active market in 2014 but large-scale deployments in the UK, Germany and France will begin to ramp up in late 2015.