Smart Grid on Your Radio

The electric grid has been on the sideline as digital innovation has made many other systems smarter and more agile. Yes, the grid is one complicated mesh of interconnects but it’s about time it got some attention.

The Obama stimulus package promises to do that. Of the $104 billion going to green tech, there’s roughly $4.5 billion allotted to help the grid get smart. How it’s going to happen is still uncertain but at least the grid is now in the game.

One startup making a run at the smart grid is e-Radio. The company, based in Los Altos, is an angel-backed venture that has developed what it claims is a low-cost and highly reliable smart-grid communication system.

Its system employs the FM RDS radio standard widely used in the automobile industry to allow suppliers to pass along pricing and grid status to customers. It’s intended to work with the new class of smart-grid devices like communicating thermostats and air-conditioning load-control switches.

As for the competition, it’s fierce and heating up with Cannon Technologies, Gridpoint and Comverge offering hardware and software systems. But E-Radio maintains its system costs less and offers better signal and reception features.

E-Radio operates a network of FCC-licensed FM radio stations using subcarrier broadcasting signals to provide one-way delivery of data content to smart-grid devices containing an e-Radio receiver.
Research by UC Berkeley determined FM RDS to be a reliable, low-cost and ubiquitous communication system for demand response and better than competing technologies. It would complement the LAN smart-grid technology Zigbee, which is currently used in utility sensors for home and business.

The California Energy Commission is pursuing adoption of an FM RDS receiver module in smart-grid devices on a statewide basis for demand response beginning in 2009. The e-Radio product is going to be available first quarter 2009 and the company is currently seeking a $3 million A round. We’ll see if e-Radio can bring some smarts to our senile electric grid. –Lee Bruno

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