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By Jeff St. John

The United Kingdom has issued a clarion call to smart meter makers everywhere – help us bring your products to the country's 26 million homes by 2020.

A plan released Monday by the U.K.'s Department of Energy and Climate Change calls for every home to have a smart meter by the end of next decade. That could save £2.5 billion to £3.6 billion ($3.78 billion to $5.44 billion) in energy costs over the next 20 years, the department said.

But the cost of buying and installing the meters and supporting equipment could be double those savings, according to the U.K. Guardian.

Europe now holds a slight lead over the United States in numbers of smart meters installed, according to a March report from ABI Research. Among the large-scale deployments are about 27 million meters installed by Italian utility Enel (EN) using technology from Echelon Corp. (NASDAQ:ELON) (see Notes From a National Smart Grid Experiment).

U.S. utilities are racing to catch up, with millions of smart meters now being deployed across the country (see Smart Meter Installations Grow Nearly Fivefold). President Barack Obama has said he wants 40 million smart meters installed at American homes, prodded along by billions in stimulus package funding.

Among the larger projects are 5 million meters being deployed by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (NYSE:PCG), 4.8 million by Southern California Edison, 4.5 million by Florida Power & Light, 2.4 million by CenterPoint Energy (NYSE:CNP), 3 million by Oncor, and 1.9 million by Pepco Holdings Inc. (NYSE:POM).

As for the UK, about 15 percent of the country's electric meters are smart meters capable of remote monitoring, shut-off and activation, said John Quealy, managing director of equity research for Canaccord Adams. Itron (NASDAQ:ITRI), Elster and Landis+Gyr subsidiary Ampy are among the market leaders in the UK, Quealy said.

The UK's smart meter push is part of a broader household energy overhaul program underway by the government, which calls for retrofitting one fourth of the country's homes for energy efficiency by 2020, the U.K. Guardian reports.

Source: U.K. Wants 26 Million Smart Meter Homes by 2020