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France to Begin $5.5 Billion Smart-Meter Program by End of 2014

France will initiate by the end of 2014 a 4.3 billion-euro ($5.5 billion) plan to deploy 35 million electronic power meters, the country’s energy minister said.

The announcement today by Delphine Batho comes after the proposal, approved in 2011, was delayed over financing difficulties, questions about consumer benefits and a dispute between local authorities that own the grid and Electricite de France SA’s ERDF distribution unit, which will install the devices, said Albert Cheung, an analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The previous French government initially planned to begin installation next year, “but since then various factors have stymied the project,” Cheung said in an e-mail today. “This is the biggest smart-meter roll-out so far by a single utility outside of China, so the complexities are understandable.”

The decision to implement the plan came after 300,000 meters were tested in homes near Lyon and Tours in a pilot project called “Linky.” The devices track power consumption and are read remotely to save energy and to make repairs.

What Batho said today “confirms the new government’s support for the program,” Cheung said. “Political will counts for a lot in the smart-metering industry.”

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