We have previously discussed the role of the National Grid in ensuring that the "lights" remain on permanently in the UK, one error and we could be plunged into darkness. The popularity of a comparatively small number of channels, combined with the country’s legendary tea-drinking habits and a marked preference for the electric kettle rather than stove-top varieties make TV pick-ups a uniquely British phenomenon.
Surges of electricity are not uncommon for the National Grid, but a mass exodus of power consumption is. Surges often range from 300MW, 60 times the maximum output of the RePower 5MW wind turbine, to in excess of 3200MW. These are normally down to what are known as TV pick-ups. The National Grid faces a constant challenge. It must provide enough energy, and not too much, and it must keep the frequency at 50hz.
"The way to think about it is to imagine you are in your car and your challenge is to keep the car at exactly 50 miles an hour. You press on the accelerator as you go up the hill, and you ease off on the other side. A TV pick-up will give you anything between 200-400 [extra MW] if it's not a major storyline; for a main character being killed or a wedding with a lot of hype 700-800. If the analysts' predictions are more than 300MW out, the incident might be investigated. We can't store electricity in any great quantity, so we have to forecast second by second, minute by minute. You base that on what did it do yesterday, what did it do last week, can you identify a day with exactly the same weather. There is a demand-forecasting computer program that looks at the corresponding five weeks over the past five years. And better still there is an analyst who tackles the TV listings every day and tries to predict the spikes. There will be somebody now looking at this evening's television schedules and forecasting what the control room should expect."
Alan Smart, Operations Manager, National Grid
The biggest ever TV pick-up was reserved for a sporting event – the 1990 World Cup. It occurred on 4th July after England’s semi-final against West Germany. Following an edge-of-the-seat penalty shoot-out, demand soared by 2,800 megawatts - equivalent to more than a million kettles being switched on, providing enough hot water for 3 million cups of tea.
Who would have thought so much effort went into your cup of tea.
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