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At the start of the year, when everyone was throwing out predictions for the rapidly growing cleantech sector, Tesla Motors and Smart Grid networking provider Silver Spring Networks were pegged as the companies most likely to go public in 2010. Less than a month later, Tesla filed for a $100 million public sale. Now, unsurprisingly, Silver Spring has tapped bankers for its own IPO.

The Redwood City, Calif. company has retained Morgan Stanley and Jeffries & Co. to underwrite a public sale, according to Dow Jones Clean Technology Insight (subscription). So far, it’s unclear what amount it will be looking for, though it has raised nearly $300 million in capital, and may be valued as highly as $3 billion (again, according to Dow Jones).

Silver Spring Networks provides a vital segment of the emerging Smart Grid: the equipment that creates wireless networks to transmit energy consumption between meters, consumers and utilities. But Silver Spring isn’t the only one doing this. Companies like GridNet are promoting WiMax networks as the ultimate method for delivering this data, and SmartSynch is working with AT&T to use existing public networks to do the same.

Silver Spring does have several advantages — besides general marketing momentum, and seemingly being in the right place at the right time. For one, its equipment is said to be cheaper than its competitors’ offerings. It lowers costs by outsourcing its manufacturing to a company called Jabil Circuit, as reported by Greentech Media earlier this week. It also has a deal with Pacific Gas & Electric to supply the equipment for one of its Smart Grid test projects, not to mention similar agreements with Florida Power & Light, American Electric Power and Pepco Holdings.

While selecting bankers indicates that Silver Spring may file for an IPO by July, there’s no guarantee that anything will come out of this news. Also, Dow Jones got its information from an anonymous source close to the company, so who knows if there’s any credence to it at all.

Last year, amid rumors that Silver Spring would be the first venture-backed Smart Grid player to go public, some analysts were arguing that it could be prime acquisition bait for the likes of Cisco Systems — a Silicon Valley giant that has been aggressively elbowing its way into Smart Grid for a while. It’s arguable that with $100 million in new capital raised in December from big names like Google Ventures, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, and Foundation Capital, the company is now too big to be bought (as Earth2Tech also points out). But I still wouldn’t rule out a last minute acquisition.

The news poses a now common question: Which cleantech company will make it to the coveted IPO first? Cylindrical solar module maker Solyndra filed right before the end of 2009. Tesla Motors and biofuel microorganism maker Codexis have both since thrown their hats into the ring. If Silver Spring joins the fray, which niche within the sector will the market prioritize?

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