In a classic case of the tail wagging the dog, upgrades to the nation’s electrical grid may be finally catching up to the technologies it has served. Widely available electricity has been the foundation for countless innovations in telecommunications in the modern age. However, the system for delivering that power is antiquated.

According to one study, much needed changes are on the horizon. Pike Research, a Boulder, Colo.-based market research and consulting firm, sees great innovations coming in the form of smart grid infrastructure upgrades. For investors, it is a huge market opportunity.

In its “Smart Grid Technologies” report the firm projects that smart grid innovations will attract $200 billion in worldwide investment between 2008 and 2015.

The potential lies in more than just smart meters, the artificially intelligent devices that have quickly become synonymous with the smart grid, although, they will no doubt play a role. Innovation will also be seen on a much larger scale in the form of transmission upgrades, substation automation, and distribution automation. In fact, Pike forecasts that these grid automation initiatives will capture 84 percent of global smart grid investment through 2015, compared to just 14 percent for advanced metering infrastructure and 2 percent for electric vehicle management systems.

According to Pike’s managing director, Clint Wheelock, utilities know where to place their bets. He explained that the firm’s analysis shows utilities will find “the best return on investment and, therefore, will devote the majority of their capital budgets to grid infrastructure projects.”

Pike identifies several factors motivating the projected build-out. The need for improved reliability and security, improved operating efficiencies and costs, balancing power generation with growing demand, and reducing impact on climate change are driving the movement toward a more intelligent grid.