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E-Radio Sets Its Power Grid Control Eyes on U.S.

Company uses FM RDS subcarrier technology to manage electricity use efficiently

E-Radio, the company using FM subcarriers to control electricity use, recently announced a deal with Canadian broadcaster CBC.

Its next target launch is the U.S., which it hopes will happen nationwide sometime in 2011–12.

The National Association of Broadcasters likes the company’s concept; in October the trade group asked the Federal Communications Commission to permit the use of FM radio data system signals to enable smart grid applications.

The firm partners with manufacturers of smart grid devices — thermostats, in-home displays, load controls and appliances — and has established pilot programs with several utility companies. It says its Utility Message Channel allows utilities, energy retailers or government agencies to send alerts, messages and commands to smart grid-enabled devices and consumer appliances that tell them to lower their energy consumption and operate more efficiently.

Using FM subcarriers leased from radio stations, e-Radio transmits the notifications to the RDS home-based receivers across a municipality or utility service area that results in reduced peak energy demand, according to the company. The technology can also intervene on the consumer’s behalf, cycling off appliances for set periods of time during peak periods.

When I last wrote about the company it was conducting pilot tests in California, Texas and Ontario. Company founder Jackson Wang tells me they’ve added a few more to the list, including Kentucky, Indiana and Maryland.

“Utilities have coverage areas of hundreds of miles. They like us because radio covers a large amount of miles cost-effectively,” he told me.

Several NPR member stations as well as private commercial stations as well are testing the e-Radio system.

Most of the U.S. stations in the e-Radio pilots also broadcast in HD Radio. The higher data rate applications possible with HD Radio open up more possibilities, Wang said, like using some of the transmitted data to send communications such as customer relations text messages or emergency alerts over various devices, like a thermostat.

The Silicon Valley company is looking for investors as well as more engineers and people who have experience with utilities. Wang has worked on messaging for smart cars and began his career as a guidance systems engineer for Litton. He’s been working on aspects of the smart grid technology since the late 1990s and founded e-Radio in 2004, he told me.