So what happens when a nation collectively sits down to watch a TV programme? You’ve probably heard of the phenomenon – major events that draw large TV audiences (like sports fixtures, popular shows and royal weddings) often produce a surge in electricity demand during natural breaks as people make a cup of tea, open the fridge and flush the loo at the same time.
The TV pick-up effect
We call it the TV pick-up effect, and we saw it this week during England’s victory over Germany during their UEFA EURO 2020 last 16 clash.
Our national control room saw around a 1GW pick-up in electricity demand at half-time in the match, and around a 1.6GW pick-up after full-time (that’s equivalent power to around 320 million light bulbs and 888,000 kettles).
It’s something that requires careful planning and management, with our forecasting team predicting demand to help our control engineers prepare – so they can draw on electricity generation quickly to meet any sudden changes in demand.
Whatever happens, our control room will be ready to respond to make sure the lights – and televisions – stay on
We have a range of tools at our disposal to do this, notably the balancing mechanism – essentially a marketplace for electricity – which allows us to access sources of extra power in real-time.
Pumped storage hydroelectric power stations can be particularly useful in this situation, with their reservoirs able to drain quickly and deliver power at short notice.
It’s not always TV events
While it’s usually only televised events that draw large enough audiences to impact electricity demand, it’s not always the case.
Britain passionately supported the ‘Clap for Carers’ initiative each Thursday at 8pm during last year’s lockdowns – and it showed in our control room.
The graph above shows one Thursday evening last year when there was a large 800MW spike when people finished clapping and went back inside, probably switching lights on and boiling the kettle.
But how do these events compare with some other historical pick-up moments?
|2019 Rugby World Cup Final - England vs South Africa
||1,350MW at half time
|2011 Royal Wedding (Prince William and Kate Middleton)
||760MW for the famous balcony greeting
|1990 England vs Germany football world cup semi final
||2800MW at the end of the penalty shoot-out
|1966 England vs West Germany football world cup final
||600MW after Geoff Hurst's iconic final goal
Historical records from the former Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) show the demand curve from that famous world cup final in 1966 - including the pick-up at the end of extra time after those iconic words, "They think it's all over... it is now!".
England will be hoping for a similar success this weekend as they take on Ukraine in the EURO 2020 quarter finals - but whatever happens, our control room will be ready to respond to make sure the lights – and televisions – stay on.