For semiconductor makers, the emergence of smart meters could be very meaningful. New smart meters will need microcontrollers for measurement, communications, and management, as well as control of human-machine interfaces (HMIs).
"Increasingly, we are seeing processors with something as powerful as an ARM 9 or an ARM Cortex-M series core," Gohn said. "Some manufacturers are even building their own dedicated silicon for the metering market."
The new breed of meters will also need sensors, transceivers, analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), operating systems, and remote disconnect switches to help facilitate the changeover from electromechanical to electronic.
For suppliers, the large-scale adoption of smart meters won't necessarily translate to huge economies of scale, Gohn said. Meter designs and standards will vary in different regions of the world, and some semiconductor makers may end up building application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) for those regions.
"It's going to be hard to get the economies of scale you would expect, even though they're going to be building 75 to 100 million meters per year," Gohn said. "There's going to be a lot of diversity in the designs."
Gohn added that the spike in the market is likely to be followed by a gradual decline after 2020. "This isn't going to last forever," he said. "Eventually, we'll get to a terminal penetration rate, and then we'll be back to a 15- to 20-year replacement cycle."