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A friend of mine came across an article about the Tokyo Waterworks Bureau, saying that during a football match that was a major qualifier between Australia and Japan, staff had to monitor the match. During breaks in play, they had to increase water flow due to increased use of the bathroom, and they had to decrease water flow when play was happening.

I also once saw on a documentary that electricity usage spiked in the UK just after the end of a popular soap opera, because people put on a kettle for a cup of tea. Again, staff working for the UK's electricity grid had to monitor when the soap opera ended, and adjust electricity production accordingly.

I'm accepting of the claim that spikes in water usage and electricity usage can occur. But are they major enough, as claimed, to require monitoring by staff?

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The phenomenon is known as "TV Pickup".

It's a sufficiently large effect that "pumped storage" reservoirs are built, which can deliver over 1GW to the grid at a few seconds' notice, used in conjunction with other direct generation sources, which are slower to ramp-up, but can generate for longer.

Even on a typical evening, spikes of around 800MW can be expected - during the ad breaks for the big soaps, for example. Among the largest recorded in the UK is 2.8GW following an England/Germany penalty shootout in 1990.

Whole teams are dedicated to both predicting the demand fluctuations based on historic form, and actively monitoring the live system. From the horse's mouth, these slides from a presentation by a National Grid operational energy manager.

  • "plenty of referenced source". When making an answer you're expected to put out the horseload of the work yourself, not link people to where they can get the answer. That is better to put in comments. – Wertilq Jun 20 '13 at 14:39
  • OK, moved it to a comment. There are plenty more references in the Wikipedia page. What's here is sufficient to confirm that the claim is true. – slim Jun 20 '13 at 14:48
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For electricity, yes. A million or so people putting on their kettles (Also note that UK electric kettles draw about twice as much power as American ones) to make tea during commercial breaks (or after the show) can result in quite large (gigawatts) swings in demand.

For example, at the end of the 1990 World Cup Semi-final match between England and Germany, electricity demand in England surged by about 2.8GW over the space of about 20 minutes.

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