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How will the Olympics affect your energy use?

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?

AndrewRH says:
1 August 2012

My iPad charger is being used a lot, at night, but the power to the broadband modem is constant. 🙂


I do not watch the Olympic Games on TV at all – I could not afford a ticket – and found the majority of the “new build” will not help the residents – The housing is not as promised for local residents – but for richer people who can afford the exorbitant mortgages – so rents will rise higher – already at an astonishing £1000 plus a month.- try affording that on Job Seekers Allowance or State Pension. So why should it interest me at all – The 1948 one did – as it was full of hope – but no TV then. So I watch the news and take in the so called “high lights” I have suffered seven years of disruption – the last four years of chaos – especially the lack of parking – due to the “rebuilding” – I live close to the stadium


I might watch the highlights on iPlayer but I am certainly not going to watch live coverage, so I don’t think my use of energy will change.

I hate large events, hero worship, high prices and cheating, and the Olympics has the lot. I would rather watch a school sports day.


I’m just not interested in sport, full stop.. Thus I will be watching just as little telly as normal during the games, and my Radio (tuned to Radio 4, so I get the hourly news and plenty of chance to hear who has cheated, who has been accused of cheating, who is a bad loser, etc.) is just on from when I get up (about 6 a.m.) to when I go to bed (about 1:00 a.m.) as normal.

I have been doing a little more Hoovering lately as my poor old cat died and she was frightened silly of the Hoover, so I tended only to Hoover when she was in eth garden, i.e. in nice weather. My new cat is not fazed by the Hoover at all, so I use it more often …. but my 1956 Hoover Junior only uses 250 watts of electricity, unlike today’s energy-guzzling monstrosities that don’t even pick up the muck anyway, so I doubt my increased cleaning will worry the electricity company much (except in so far as I create marginally less money for the Managing Director’s new Yacht fund by using less than most people.)

All that aside, I am well aware that the utilities have forecasters and a good thing they do since most households use (or waste) vast amounts of power and do sit glued to the goggle-box for the Y-factor and West-enders and to see t’old Queen (that’s Elizabeth, not the latest Drag act on Britain needs some talent).

Just in case there is the usual brigade of humour-deficient readers looking at this, all the above is tongue-in-cheek: it’s true that I don’t conform to the stereotypes but I bear no grudge against those who do: each to their own – so long as they can afford it.


How very sad for anyone to know how much power their vacuum cleaner uses*. It would be more useful to learn who won the silver medal for the men’s 100 metre long jump to help win a pub quiz.

I’m not interested in sport either and look forward to life getting back to normal after the Olympics. I have noticed a drop in the number of evening calls from friends, presumably because they are glued to the TV.

*From memory, my Miele vacuum cleaner uses about 960 watts on the normal power setting. 🙂

Sophie Gilbert says:
2 August 2012

What Olympics?


Well if you guys aren’t watching the Olympics, you are truly missing out! Six Team GB golds today, with three in the athletics. History was made, it was incredibly exciting and the whole country is proud. You get the feeling that just getting involved in this Games and watching it extends your life somewhat (even if I am immobile watching it on TV – I think I’ve saved quite a bit of electricity!).

Third on the medal table with 14 golds, and 29 medals overall. It truly is a magical event and if you’re still not watching it – turn the telly on!


I watch the NEWS – this contains ad infinitum re-runs of Olympic Games _ So I know the results. But the topic was “How will the Olympics affect your energy use?”

And the answer is for me – Not at all – I do not watch and am not interested in the 2012 Olympic Games except how badly it has affected my daily life for the last SEVEN years – I live close to the Stadium.

Rodney says:
16 August 2012

I am sick sick sick of the Olympics
I have