The Ember Corporation, a major vendor of ZigBee wireless networking technology, just brought in $8 million in capital to connect household devices and appliances to the smart grid. Like most other companies in the space, the bulk of its business comes from equipping smart meters with radio chips and software that allow utilities and homeowners to easily share energy-consumption data.

As the leading provider of ZigBee services, Ember is in prize position to take advantage of the growing smart meter market. The Boston-based company says that demand for ZigBee-enabled meters will skyrocket to 292 million — up from 7 million — by 2012. To help it get there, it’s eyeing the $17 billion the Obama administration allocated to grid infrastructure. Between possible federal funds and the support of existing investors, Ember may prove to be pretty recession-proof. It was certainly confident enough to expand its sales channels by adding new distributors in Australia, New Zealand, India, China and Hong Kong.

Ember’s investors — Polaris Venture Partners, Grandbanks Capital, RRE Ventures, Vulcan Capital, DFJ ePlanet Ventures, New Atlantic Ventures, WestLB Mellon Asset Management, STMicroelectronics, Hitachi, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stata Venture Partners and Chevron Technology Ventures — have provided $89 million in capital to date. The fact that Polaris partner and 3Com founder Bob Metcalfe is Ember’s chairman also suggests that the company knows what it’s doing.

That being said, there is some concern that Ember’s primary product could very easily be commodified and manufactured in bulk by other large-scale chip-makers.

For those not familiar with the ZigBee design, the system is basically a network of wireless sensors that can be placed anywhere in the home — on refrigerators, washing machines, thermostats, etc. They then record and send information about energy use back to a central hub, where it can be broken down into more understandable terms. Here’s a cartoon rendering of what a ZigBee system looks like:


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