Posted: 10 March 2014

‘A day in the life of an unsung hero’

Bang Goes the Theory, BBC, future, supply, demand.
Jem Stansfield, Liz Bonnin and Maggie Philbin will be revealing the science behind the headlines in the eight-part series.

Jem Stansfield, Liz Bonnin and Maggie Philbin will be revealing the science behind the headlines in the new eight-part series of BBC TV’s Bang Goes The Theory. For the first programme, the team visited the National Grid control centre in Berkshire.

Bang Goes the Theory aims to explain the science behind the headlines to the wider audience that tunes in to BBC One on Monday nights at 7:30pm. The rationale for making a programme about Energy in the UK and National Grid’s role in balancing the network came from a number of recent headlines about how the country is at risk of ‘the lights going out’, as BBC researcher Tom Welch explains…

In 21st century Britain, people expect that when they switch on a light, or plug something in, there will be sufficient electricity to power the bulb or run their device. One of the aims of this programme is to show viewers the challenges that our daily lives place on the grid.

Individuals expect electricity whenever they need it 24/7 and we aimed to show how demand placed on the grid varies throughout the day. This daily demand profile gives us a springboard to go off and explore how various electricity generation sources can be used in order to ensure that supply of electricity meets demand.

We discuss the science of how these different sources produce electricity and also some of the pros and cons of each source. National Grid is, without a doubt, an unsung hero in ensuring our individual electricity demands are always met.

What was particularly interesting about visiting the National Grid control centre in Berkshire was the calm air about the place. It is incredible to think that a team of only 25 people is able to balance the network given the size, power and extent of it. It was fascinating to see how people worked in combination to plan what demand might be and then respond accordingly. We were particularly lucky to see the team respond to the British phenomenon of the ‘TV pick-up’ – the demand increase after the end of a popular television programme – and to see how this was really all in a day’s work.

There is no doubt that National Grid faces some serious challenges in the future as our electricity supply moves away from the old style of one big generating source to an increasingly diverse and spread out generation mix.

One of the striking things about visiting National Grid was the passion that people had about working for the company. This fills me with confidence that the country’s electricity demand will be capably met whatever changes take place.

Gas innovation in full flow
"One of the striking things about visiting National Grid was the passion that people had working for the company."

Thomas Welch, BBC Researcher