The Great British Kettle Surge

When we think about what could prompt a sudden & large need for energy our thoughts turn to the obvious, such as an arena bursting into life for a big concert, a skyscraper full of offices waking up or all of the bright lights of a theme park switching on at once. A gargantuan call for electricity will conjure these images, but we rarely think of something as small or simple as, say, a light-bulb, or a telephone ringing; or even a kettle

However, it’s this humble home appliance that regularly challenges the UK’s National Grid to keep the nation’s lights on. Known as ‘TV pickup’, the National Grid often braces itself for additional hundreds or even thousands of megawatts surging throughout the nation, all because of an ad break during a prime time television show or a special televised event. 

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This is ‘The Great British Kettle Surge’, the phenomenon of millions of kettles being switched on almost simultaneously, which occurs more often than one might imagine. It’s heavily ingrained in British culture to go for a cup of tea at the drop of a hat, so the common action of turning on a kettle might not seem significant, yet it’s the sheer quantity of kettles boiling across the nation that creates a national demand for electricity.

Due to the sudden nature of TV pickups, despite the National Grid’s best attempts at predictions, the electricity required may not be readily available. This is why the UK frequently has to export energy from other countries, often from some of our closest neighbours. France is widely recognised as the world’s largest exporter of electricity, which is why we turn to them as a reliable provider for electricity whenever there’s a break before the judges’ verdicts in The Great British Bakeoff or the viewing public needs reprieve from the results of a Love Island elimination.

The sheer amount of energy required from even one of the smallest TV pickups is, frankly, shocking, which is why Energy Controls created a visual aid to showcase this. Everything from Will & Kate’s Royal Wedding to the first Moon Landing has been measured in terms of viewership numbers, which boil down to how much electricity was needed for these events as well as how many kettles this staggering amount of watts could power.

How many cups of tea could the 2008 Olympics viewership have made? How many homes could have been powered by one of Beyonce’s biggest shows? And has the nation’s TV pickups become any less taxing over the last few decades? These questions, and many more, are visually represented below.