Monday, July 6, 2009

grauniad and digital radio

Is there a digital radio that's more energy efficient than my old analogue radio?

Yes, but only if you don't mind winding up the radio every three minutes, says Leo Hickman

* Leo Hickman
o, Wednesday 3 June 2009 15.53 BST

A digital radio and breakfast

Digital radios use a great deal more energy than analogue ones. Photograph: David Sillitoe/Guardian

Is there a digital radio that's more energy efficient than my old analogue radio?

P Langley, by email

It's not long to wait now until the government announces the switchover date that will see FM radio frequencies turned off leaving only DAB digital radio signals for us to enjoy Westwood, Wossy, Wogan and all the other delights Marconi could only have dreamed of. Lord Carter, the communications minister, is expected to set the date on June 16 when he releases the final Digital Britain report.

As with the on-going switchover from analogue to digital TV, there are already grumbles that such a move will mean many of us are forced to go out and buy yet another piece of expensive gadgetry for our homes – a decent DAB radio can easily set you back £50 or more — when our existing equipment seemingly performs a more than an adequate job. It saddens me, for example, that a small battery-powered transistor radio that's been the perfect bathroom companion for the past 20 years or so will soon be made redundant when it could presumably go on delivering the Today programme both today and for many more tomorrows.

What's equally annoying, however, is that I will, in all likelihood, have to replace my beloved radio with one that consumes more energy. It's all in the name of progress, apparently, as we will now be saved from "suffering" any more snap, crackle and pop when we're listen to the radio. Clearer reception may be the result for some listeners, but, according to an Energy Saving Trust report (pdf) published two years ago, "traditional analogue radios have an average on-power consumption of two watts, but digital radios consume, on average, more than four times this amount (8.5 watts)." Radios – be they analogue or digital – rank fairly low down the list of the most energy hungry appliances in our home, but it does seems slightly at odds with our energy-saving mantra that we should be making a step-change towards a technology that uses "more than four times" the power of its predecessor.

Worse, perhaps, is that they typically make use of standby power. Many of the DAB radio manufacturers are making an effort to produce more energy efficient products. For example, Pure — the self-proclaimed " world's leading DAB digital radio manufacturer" — has recently announced the launch of its "Less than a Light Bulb" campaign to highlight that fact that four of its radios carrying the EST's "Energy Saving Recommended" label running at the same time will still use less energy than a low-energy lightbulb. To earn such a label, a radio must consume less than 3.5W of electricity. This is a welcome development, but it still doesn't beat the energy consumption of the average analogue radio.

Wind-up and solar-powered DAB radios offer an extra alternative, but I doubt these will supply the bulk of the demand expected to be created by the switchover. Plus when you consider one minute of winding the first ever wind-up DAB model provides just three minutes of digital radio versus an hour of FM, it's also likely most wind-up DABs will frequently be charged from the mains.

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