Utilities are, generally speaking, stupid. Markets are inundated with shoddy pricing and inefficient infrastructure. But recent investments by innovative companies are pushing smart grid growth to become top priority. Here are three dividend stocks getting smart about smart grids.

1. Exelon's excellence
Exelon's (NYSE:EXC) three regulated utilities are no stranger to smart grids. Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE) has installed 287,000 meters, while Pennsylvania's PECO has put in 364,000 year to date. BGE expects another 980,000 by year's end, and ComEd in Illinois will begin with 60,000.

Source: Comed.com 

Smart meters mean savings for both Exelon and its customers. By tracking real-time prices throughout the day, meters directly reward electricity users for conserving energy during peak periods. For nuclear-centric Exelon, that means the utility can take greater advantage of its expensive to build, but cheap to operate, base load nuclear plants throughout the day.

Lower power prices hit the utility hard this past quarter, and any cost-competitive advantage it can muster is a must for a utility with scale on its side.

2. Ameren's analyzing
Ameren (NYSE:AEE) isn't letting Exelon have all the fun in Illinois. The utility opened the doors to its $3.3 million testing facility this week, paving the way for something smart grids still need more of – proof.

A controversial smart grid bill made Ameren's (and Exelon's) investment possible, and the utility is making the most of its hard-fought win. Ameren expects to spend an additional $643 million over the next 10 years, and smart grids will play a key role in its infrastructure modernization. Its testing facility features a substation, circuit feeders, and the ability to test both utility-scale technology, as well as household-level products.

3. PPL's pilot project
PPL's (NYSE:PPL) smart grid pilot project points to another major win for utilities and customers – reliability. A three-year, $38 million, government-financed project resulted in significant reliability improvements for PPL's 60,000 test subjects. With less than a year since the project finished up, PPL reported this week that service reliability is up 38% in its "smarter" area.

Cutting out outages is undoubtedly a win for customers, PPL's new automated circuits reduce field crew hours, can reduce the damage to an electrical system, and (most importantly) keep the revenue coming in even as repairs take place.

PPL plans to spend $100 million on additional smart grid deployment over the next five years. For general infrastructure development that complements smart grid work, the utility is coughing up a whopping $3.8 billion over five years. But if the company's pilot project is any evidence, these are worthwhile investments that will push PPL's profits further than ever.

Foolish bottom line
Smart grid technology investments took a beating during the Great Recession, and only now are utilities gearing up real growth opportunities. It's uncharted water for every energy company out there, but visionary leaders already know that smart grid technology is an intelligent investment.