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Broadcasters: use FM subcarriers for smart grids

Department of Energy primer on Smart GridsAn interesting filing from the National Association of Broadcasters in response to the Federal Communications Commissions’ call for feedback on ways that broadband can help smart grids. The NAB says let FM radio stations lend their subcarrier channels to the cause:

“Smart Grid devices, implanted in home appliances, thermostats, and plug-in hybrid vehicles, could receive data information via an FM data subcarrier channel at anytime, day or night. That data could, for example, tell appliances when to turn off or down or tell thermostats to increase temperatures by a few degrees during peak load times. The resulting decrease in demand could help save billions of dollars each year in energy costs.”

Smart Grids are electrical power sources that use computer networks to monitor their performance and serve energy more efficiently. An FM subcarrier is a signal that sends voice/data about the main FM transmission. These signals can also be used for other purposes. In the early 1980s the Federal Communications Commission deregulated them, allowing radio stations to lease them out for various commercial purposes with a degree of FCC supervision.

NAB proposes tapping into these subcarrier channels via the Radio Data System protocol, which moves bits at about 1,100 per second, not the fastest speed in the world, but “well-matched to the requirements of the Smart Grid load management application, while still allowing ample opportunity for other, simultaneous uses.”

If the idea works, it could put some extra money into the pockets of FM stations, which they certainly need at this point. But hopefully this wouldn’t divert Radio Broadcast Data Systems resources from some of the other purposes to which they are used, such as radio reading services for the blind.

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