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Google, Spectrum Bridge sending smart grid data over TV waves

The smart grid just entered brand new territory: television airwaves. Today, service provider Spectrum Bridge announced that it is working with Google, of all companies, to start channeling data collected by smart meters over “white space,” the term for unused television channels.

Smart grid data communication is a hot-button issue in the burgeoning industry. Several camps have emerged, supporting much different modes for sending energy consumption data from smart meters back to utilities or to consumer electronics (like home energy management dashboards and smart appliances).

Silver Spring Networks and Trilliant champion proprietary networks to get this job done, while competitor SmartSynch taps into public mobile networks provided by carriers like AT&T, and Grid Net wants to use WiMAX networks to do the same thing.

Now Spectrum Bridge and Google are adding a new dimension to this skirmish, claiming that the “white space” is capable of exchanging data at much faster rates than even standard internet Wi-Fi. Distance and physical obstructions also don’t present as much of a problem.

White space is a relatively new concept. After the FCC enforced the transition from analog to digital television broadcasting, a bunch of channels were left empty, and the the commission made them available for unlicensed use. There have been several proposals to use them to supplement current wireless service in some areas, but this hasn’t gained serious traction.

Spotting the Smart Grid opportunity, Google teamed up with Smart Bridge and Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Cooperative & Telecommunications — the utility in Plumas-Sierra County, Calif. — to test out the use of white space for sending energy data.

The county in the Sierra Nevada Mountains was chosen for the experiment because it is remote, and fairly isolated from wireless coverage. So far, the white space has successfully channeled information between parties, the local utility says. This is one of several white space tests that Spectrum Bridge has been involved in.

Google is involved because it is providing its PowerMeter tool to monitor the white space network. PowerMeter shows users how much energy they are using in their homes in real time, to monitor the white space network.

In addition to using the white space for smart grid communications, the local utility will also be tapping it to provide broadband internet connections to homes that haven’t had them before. Usually, smart grid communications are built on top of existing broadband networks, but, notably, the reverse is true in this situation.

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