Choosing the right technology isn’t easy for anyone.

Proliferation of problems to solve and ways to solve them have made every consumers life more difficult, whether the consumer is a large electric utility or a teenager looking for an iPod.

Established firms in mature industries know they are constantly in danger of being left behind in technological innovation, and that the risks of choosing the wrong technology are ever-present and costly.

With the pace of progress on smart grid and technology upgrade efforts in the electricity sector picking up against the background of pressures to boost investment, utilities have begun meeting with small, innovative firms in hopes of gaining an edge on their competitors and staying cost-efficient despite fuel commodity price increases and regulatory complexity.

“One of the things we’re trying to do more and more is meet with these companies so they know what to pitch to us further down the road,” Northeast Utilities (NU) Director of Strategy and Business Development Camilo Serna told Breaking Energy. “We’re trying to understand where the new technologies are going.”

NU is judging a beauty contest of technological innovators in the energy space this week at the TechConnect World Conference and Expo in Boston, running July 13-16. The judges are focusing on the long-term market potential of companies ranging from energy efficiency to energy storage, renewables to data gathering and distributed grid technologies.

NU operates across three states and multiple regulatory jurisdictions, and has to be cautious when considering new technology to balance the needs of its customers, its investors, its regulators and even its own staff’s capacity to change processes while still focusing on reliability.

“We have to be conscious of not getting caught up in too much data at one time,” Serna said, echoing the challenges laid out by companies like IBM, which are developing technological processes and system solutions to filter data for energy providers and consumers.

Northeast Utilities has has proposed installing smart meters to all of its customers in Connecticut, but when it comes to more complex operations and data management may rely on technology partnerships rather than building technology in-house. That approach is in contrast to one taken by Constellation Energy, which developed its own VirtuWatt system for helping large-scale customers manage and automate their demand response efforts as well as participate in electricity market trading.