The 'lockdown effect' on TV viewing habits and the electricity grid

What happens when we all sit down to watch the same TV show? A surge in demand for electricity, or what we call a 'TV pickup'At the end of a popular programme, if we all get up to make a cup of tea or open the fridge at the same time then in our electricity control room we see a spike in demand for electricity.

Streaming and catch up services like Netflix and BBC iPlayer have made mass TV watching less common and the number of TV pickups has reduced, but, with the effects of coronavirus meaning more of us are at home, we’re starting to see the return of the pickup effect.

In fact, over the past month there were two significant pickups.

Millions of us tuned into the final 2020 season episode of Ant and Dec’s Saturday night takeaway, and also to Her Majesty the Queen's address to the nation.

At the end of her speech we saw a 500-600MW pickup, the equivalent of 300,000 kettles all being boiled the same time! That’s an awful lot of tea.

What else can cause surges?

We’re all proud of the brilliant work our doctors, nurses and care workers have been doing to help people impacted by coronavirus. Many of us have been passionately supporting the ‘Clap for Carers’ initiative each Thursday at 8pm.

The graph below shows that just after 8pm last night there was a large spike when people finished clapping and went back inside to watch TV, pop the kettle on and carry on with their evening.

National Grid ESO - pickup from the NHS clapping - graph showing power surge

TV pickups are less frequent but still require careful planning and management.

Our energy forecasting teams predict the daily national demand for electricity taking into account external factors, like the weather and TV programmes likely to draw large audiences.

Having this forecast in place means we are prepared and ready to draw on electricity generation to quickly meet the increase in demand.

We do this through a suite of tools called the Balancing Mechanism, essentially a marketplace for electricity, which allows us to access sources of extra power in real-time.

If our forecasts predict high demand it we can keep a number of power stations on reserve, ready to deliver additional electricity if needed.

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.

With more of us staying at home our forecasting team will be examining the TV schedules closely and monitoring for any more pickups over the coming weeks, so we can all have that cuppa at the end of our favourite show!

How does the queen’s address compare to other TV moments?
TV moment Pickup
2019 Rugby World Cup Final between England and South Africa 1350MW at half time
2011 Royal Wedding (of Prince William and Kate Middleton) 760MW for the famous balcony greeting
1990 England vs Germany football world cup semi final A whopping 2800MW at the end of the penalty shoot out!

For more information on everything we’re doing to keep the lights on throughout coronavirus click here.