We’ve all heard stories about peaks in electricity demand during soap opera ad breaks, when everyone pops out to put the kettle on. But how much can demand vary? I spoke to the National Grid to find out.
This morning, one of my colleagues told me there were significant ups and downs in electricity demand when Phil Mitchell was getting shot in Eastenders – no one was boiling kettles or doing the vacuuming because they were all glued to the telly.
But is that actually true? I wondered whether big events, such as the Olympics, could have a real effect on your household energy use. And if so, are they going up or down? The National Grid is responsible for managing these peaks and troughs in demand, so I got in touch to ask if they had any figures around the biggest night of the TV calendar this year – the Olympic opening ceremony.
Ups, downs and excitement
I realised I was actually quite ignorant about how this stuff works – I assumed there would be a huge peak in demand as everyone switched their tellies on for the opening ceremony on Friday. But it turns out I was wrong!
Luckily, the National Grid has a whole team of expert electricity demand forecasters whose job it is to predict what will happen when these huge events are aired. Here’s what they told me:
‘Our expert energy forecasters predicted that during the Isles of Wonder [the ceremony’s opening music], electricity demand would be lower than normally expected, as families gathered round their TV sets instead of pursuing their usual activities. But as the parade of athletes began, they forecasted that demands would be higher than normal as viewers stayed up, glued to their seats to watch the parade, the arrival of the torch, the lighting of the cauldron and the firework display.
‘In the end, as the Queen arrived, demand during the show was up to 1800MW (Megawatts) lower than would normally be expected; and afterwards, it was up to 1600MW higher than normal as the cauldron was lit.
‘A demand reduction of 1800MW is equal to not needing the electricity to supply a city almost the size of Liverpool. And a demand increase of 1600MW is the equivalent of needing enough extra power to supply a city the size of Norwich.’
So basically, demand for energy was low during the first part of the ceremony, as people abandoned their usual activities to watch the drama unfold. However, later on – when people would usually have been in bed – demand was much higher. Instead of switching the lights off, we stayed up.
The ups and downs of your energy usage
It made me wonder – as I’m not normally an avid telly-watcher, what will happen to my own electricity use during the Olympics? I’ve already found myself watching more TV than normal – whether it’s keeping an eye on the rowing or listening to the race commentary.
But as I tend not to sit in front of the TV for long periods, I suspect that as the nation’s demand goes down, my own energy use will go up. I’ll be doing the same things as before (vacuuming, ironing, making endless cups of coffee) just with the added boost of having the TV on in the background.
Do you think that your energy use will change much during the Olympics? Will you spending more time in front of the TV, or roughly the same as before?