On-Demand Power in the U.K.

Tom Coyle
June 6, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2017


Fig. 1: Pumped Storage Plant 2010-2016. (Source: Wikimedia Commons).

TV Pickup is a term coined for the phenomenon in Great Britain of surges in the electrical grid. During popular primetime programming hours, during commercial breaks in programming it is common for many people to use the restroom, open the refrigerator and turn on their tea kettle. The increase in demand often overwhelms the grid. As a response, on-demand power is necessary.

TV Pickup - The Need for Power

Popular aired programs catch the attentions of millions of people in the UK. During stoppages in these programs, many of them leave their couch to use the restroom, grab a snack or make some tea. The result of this is a rapid increase in energy demand for the grid. While it is thought that kettles are the main culprit of this spike in demand, the spike is mostly caused from an increase in activity at pump stations for the bathrooms and compressors activating in refrigerators, which require more energy than a standard kettle.

For example, the highest TV pickup recorded was during the England vs. West Germany FIFA World Cup semi-final penalty shootout. After a heartbreaking defeat, millions of Brits used the restroom and opened the refrigerator, creating a 2800 MW demand for electricity. Other events include the Royal Wedding in 2011, the English Teams World Cup matches in 2002, and popular primetime programming. [1]

Supplying the Power - Pumped-Storage Plants

The UK Grid operators tune in to programming during popular TV shows to respond to commercial breaks in real time. While watching for commercial breaks, they monitor consumption and demand. Along with advanced forecasting techniques, and backup reserves, they are able to respond to rapid increases in energy demand. According to The British Electricity International, the additional output which is part-loaded generating plant is able to supply and sustain within 5 minutes. This category also includes pumped storage plant operating in the pumping mode, whose demand can be disconnected within 5 minutes. [2]

The Digest of United Kingdom Energy Statistics define pumped storage hydro-electric stations as fast acting energy providers, but ultimately consume more electricity than they distribute. Pumped storage hydro-electric stations use electricity to pump water into a high level reservoir. This water is then released to generate electricity at peak times. Where the reservoir is open, the stations also generate some natural flow electricity; this is included with natural flow generation. As electricity is used in the pumping process, pumped storage stations are net consumers of electricity. [3] The scheme of the pumped storage plant can be found in Fig. 1.

Pumped Storage Plants in the United Kingdom

U.K. has four pumped-storage plants with a large capacity to supply the grid with power in a short notice. The plants hold a total capacity of nearly 3 GW and a storage volume of 27.6 GWh. The plants are in Dinorwig, Ffestiniog (Wales), Cruachan and Foyers (Scotland). Currently, upgrade the Cruachan plant to provide 600 MW of additional capacity. The proposed plans project to unlock 1 billion and provide hundreds of jobs. [4]


A unique phenomenon in the United Kingdom occurs during popular programming. During commercial breaks or at the conclusion of a television show or sports game, millions of Brits use the bathroom, open the fridge or turn on their tea kettle, resulting in an overwhelming response in energy demand. As a result, advanced forecasting techniques and preventative measures in energy storage are used to meet the demand. To meet the demand in a short time, the U.K. currently has four pumped-storage plants to provide U.K. with power.

©Tom Coyle. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] N. Cunningham and A. DeWit, "How Much Energy Will the 2014 World Cup Consume?" Asia Pacific J. 11, 4 (2013).

[2] British Electricity International, Modern Power Station Practice, 3rd Ed. (Pergamon, 1993).

[3] I. MacLeay et al., "Digest of United Kingdom Energy Statistics 2010," U.K. Department of Energy and Climate Change, 2010.

[4] D. J. C. MacKay, Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air (UIT Cambridge Ltd, 2009), pp. 190-192.