TV Pickup - Electricity Surges & Cuppas for World Cup 2018

football with light bulb in tea cup

One minute before half time against Panama, Harry Kane delivers another goal for England, putting him on the road to hat trick heaven. Meanwhile, a special team of fans at National Grid HQ was watching football on the job but they had a solid excuse.

They are known as the Balancing Team, and while they were gripped by the electric atmosphere like everyone else, they also had a very different reason to be watching so closely. This team was on the lookout for the Half-Time Kettle Effect or “TV Pickup” - a uniquely British tea-powered electricity surge that can reach epic proportions.


What happens when everyone in the UK watches the World Cup at the same time?

This past Sunday, 14 million fans watched the England v Panama match in the UK alone. As the half time whistle blew, it was time for hundreds of thousands of celebratory cuppas. Within a few seconds of each other, around 300,000 kettles began to whistle with euphoria across the British Isles and our national electricity demand shot up faster than Jamie Vardy bursting through a hapless defence.

The National Grid shows electricity almost in real time. Below you can see what the Kettle Effect or TV Pickup looked like at half time for England's recent game against Panama.


source: National Grid

During the match, electricity demand was bobbing up and down by a few dozen Kilowatts give or take. But, as soon as the first half drew to a close, we got a very different story and a ski ramp increase came out of nowhere with electricity demand that skyrocketed by around 1000 Kilowatts in 5 minutes flat. Britain suddenly goes bonkers for tea and the balance of power is in peril.

Top 10 England Football Games Power Rankings

Where does the latest England World Cup game rank in terms of raw peak power usage?


source: The Guardian

Unfortunately, the England v Panama game does not even dent the top ten. In fact, its TV Pickup is more in the neighbourhood of an episode of Corrie or Eastenders that your mum and her friends found particularly exciting.

Don’t fret, this doesn’t mean that our beautiful game is in dire straits. In recent years, the impact of the Kettle Effect or TV Pickup has been somewhat mitigated by our changing TV habits as less people tune in to live TV (outside of major events) because streaming services like BBC iPlayer and Netflix have turned out to be game-changers. Nonetheless, major football events will still require the National Grid to be at the top of its game for the foreseeable future.

The National Grid Power Station Line Up

The National Grid plays a peak-time game and manages its own squad to keep our supply shipshape. Their players are power stations with different strengths and weaknesses. Just like any football team, the National Grid Balancing Team needs a strategy for its energy mix:

National Grid Strategy
  • Defence: Seven nuclear power stations can be relied on for solid power generation even if Gareth Southgate were ever to blow a gasket.
  • Midfield: A dozen or so major gas power stations are pretty quick on their feet and keep up with the overall pace of electricity demand.
  • Up front: The star striker and patron saint of the National Grid is none other than Dinorwig Hydro Station in North Wales. By releasing stored water from its colossal reservoirs, it can ramp up to full power faster than an Alan Shearer thunderbolt into the top corner. It can keep up with this ludicrous display six hours straight.
  • Subs: Wind turbines, solar panels and biomethane plants can be subbed in to shore up the wings but they are still a little too green today to completely come off the sideline. They are the ones to keep an eye on as other energy players start to retire in the years to come.

You will also have energy generators from across the channel that can fill in for any domestic energy shortfalls though it can cost a pretty penny if we are not careful.

Keep Calm And Drink Tea

Boiling water to make a cuppa requires a lot more power than other things you do at half time, like turning the lights on. Electric tea kettles are a traditionally British contraption designed to conveniently quench our thirst for tea. Unfortunately, too many people in Britain tend to overfill their kettles.

On a regular day, it just means they are wasting a bit more electricity but during a World Cup game where potentially 5 million people could be brewing their finest cuppas or getting a cold beer out of the fridge, the impact can get out of control faster than Gary Lineker eating a bag of crisps, if not managed properly.

Our obsession with tea could bring the power grid to its knees and push British society to the brink of massive power cuts if we are not careful.

Is watching the World Cup bad for the environment?

Dirty coal and gas fired power stations cannot spool up fast enough to defend against the Kettle Effect. Hydroelectric power is the secret weapon that lets the National Grid stay on the ball. Since it does not hinge on burning fuel to generate energy, hydroelectric power is actually greener than most.

Hydroelectric (hydro for short) power is renewable energy that only needs water and gravity to get the job done. It has been around in one form or another even before the Roman Empire was a going concern. The good news is that dams get refilled by free rainfall or rivers feeding into them, no dangerous chemicals or large chimneys there.

On the flipside, hydroelectric power stations work because reinforced concrete dams contain unthinkable amounts of water and its energy potential. Their construction is always a large scale affair that upturns whole valleys in the process. What was once a habitat for plants and animals is flooded and destroyed forever, and in some cases villages and small towns are also swept up because of our need for more power.

Is power more expensive during the World Cup?

Your electricity provider can be one of the Big Six (the Premier League of energy) or an independent supplier (more like the Championship). Both offer fixed tariffs that protect you from price changes for a period of time. If you are not on that, then you will be on a variable tariff, which tracks the rollercoaster that is the energy market. However, your energy company has to give you advance warning (usually a month) of any changes to your pricing.

The World Cup will not send your electric bill skyrocketing just because England goes tea mad during half time.

The National Grid has got your back making sure electricity costs do not get out of hand. Peak energy demand from the Kettle Effect is met with hydroelectric power created when water is released from reservoirs, it is cheaper than many other ways of making electricity as well as being greener too.

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