This is a great example of the effect of ‘TV pickup’ on the UK’s electricity networks. However, it is also highlights that demand usage has been changing dramatically over the last decade.
What is TV pickup?
‘TV pickup’ is the phrase used to describe the phenomenon of a large upsurge in electricity usage that coincides with a popular TV event. This demand is attributed to breaks in the programme where viewers have the opportunity to refresh themselves, for instance by getting drinks from the fridge or boiling the kettle. These acts impose a large synchronised demand increase, which the National Grid must balance with short-term supply options, most notably pumped storage reservoirs. These can be brought online at a moment’s notice.
What’s the largest TV pickup to date?
The largest ever TV pickup was also a football event. This occurred at the end of the 1990 penalty shootout in the England v West Germany World Cup semi-final. At this point, a 2800MW surge in demand was recorded – equivalent to the power used to switch on 933,000 kettles at the same time.
Other notable TV pickup events include the finale of the TV show, The Thorn Birds, in 1984, and the reveal of dramatic cliffhangers in soap operas, EastEnders and Dallas. The England v Australia Rugby World Cup final in 2003 saw a 2290MW rise in demand. More recently, a demand lift of 1600MW was recorded for the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton in 2011.
Are things changing?
It seems the impact of TV pickup has reduced in recent years. This can be attributed in part to more efficient household appliances, as improved energy efficiency has seen overall electricity demand trend lower for the last ten years. National Grid also acknowledged that the rise in online TV, on-demand and catchup services, that make the country less likely to view programmes at the same time, has reduced the impact of TV pickup.
“They are much, much smaller than they were. The way that people watch TV has meant that they have come down in size,” said Jeremy Caplin, forecasting manager at National Grid.
This is reflected in the fact only eleven of the top 30 pickups have occurred post 2000, and only one (the Royal Wedding) since 2006.
Of course, some live events such as the FIFA World Cup still generate significant demand spikes. With 30 million people expected to tune in to England’s quarter-final match with Sweden on Saturday, there is the potential for an even larger pickup.