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Blog Post 20 June 2024

Millions of kettles putting strain on the grid: the TV pickup effect explained

TV pickup is the name given to the surge of energy use caused during major TV events. This surge usually coincides with advert breaks or halftime during sporting events, when millions of Brits put the kettle on at the same time.

It sounds too stereotypically British to be true. But it’s a real phenomenon that puts extra strain on our energy supply, even though it’s usually only for a few minutes while the adverts are on.

How does National Grid deal with TV pickup?

National Grid is responsible for making sure there’s enough energy to go around. It tries to predict changes in how much energy will be needed based on the weather and people’s energy habits. 

It helps take the extra strain of TV pickup by:

  • putting more generators on standby to deal with the increased demand
  • importing energy from other countries to cover any shortfall

For example, a BBC documentary called ‘Britain from Above’ sees a National Grid engineer watching an episode of EastEnders while sat the control room. As soon as the end credits appear, they put more energy into the grid to cover around 1.5 million kettles being switched on at once.

What kinds of events trigger a TV pickup?

The most common TV events that cause this surge in energy are:

  • soap operas
  • football matches eg FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro Championship
  • royal weddings and funerals

In the 80s and 90s it was more common to see energy surges appear during specific TV dramas too. But with the rise of on-demand TV, streaming and binge watching, it’s much less likely to happen these days.

Energy peaks unrelated to TV shows

Sometimes, the grid sees massive changes in energy use that aren’t related to the TV.

The 1999 solar eclipse, for example, saw the single biggest surge of energy ever recorded. But only a third of this was caused by post-eclipse kettle use. People going back to work and booting up computers contributed to the bulk of this record-breaking surge.

National Grid also saw spikes in demand immediately after the weekly ‘clap for carers’ events during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

As these were known events, National Grid was able to predict and cover these spikes in energy use.

Save energy during TV pickup surges

If you decide to make a brew during halftime at the Euros, remember to only boil as much water as you need. This will reduce the strain on the grid. If you follow this habit all year round, you could save yourself £9 a year in Great Britain (GB) and £14 in Northern Ireland (NI).

If you have a bunch of people coming over to watch the game, turn your thermostat down by a degree. Having lots of people around means they’re naturally giving off heat, so you don’t need to work so hard to keep the room warm.

TV pickup quiz

Try our quiz and see if you can guess which TV events sparked the biggest surges on the grid.

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Last updated: 20 June 2024