Illustration: John Tenniel Morphart/Shutterstock
So what happens when 20 million people decide to make a cup of tea at the same time? This is exactly the situation that occurs just before viewers tune in for their favourite soap or take a break from a nail-biting football match – they flick that trusty kettle on. And when it’s 20 million kettles, that means a massive surge in power consumption and a nerve-wracking time for the National Grid. But don’t worry, the Kennet & Avon Canal is on hand to help.
Joining forces with Open Energi, the Trust can now turn off water pumps on the canal at times when the National Grid needs to ‘borrow’ electricity to cope with surges in demand – such as half-time during a Cup Final, when audiences feel the urge for a brew.
These energy spikes, a phenomenon we call TV pickup, keep the National Grid ever watchful of the TV schedule so it’s prepared for big events weeks in advance, such as the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011 when 24 million viewers produced a spike of 1600 MW or during that dramatic episode of Eastenders in 2001 when we found out who shot Phil Mitchell and 22 million viewers caused a spike of 2,290 MW!
Following the success of the initiative on the Kennet & Avon, the Trust has since rolled out the technology to other pumping stations across the South East. Darren Parkinson from the Canal & River Trust says: “It’s great that something 200-years old is solving a very 21st-century problem. Next time you flick the switch on the kettle at half-time in the Cup Final or during the X Factor, remember there’s part of a historic waterway going to sleep for a few minutes to help you.”