Posted: 23 December 2016

Why Christmas forecasting needs to be fab-u-lous

National Grid, Christmas forecasting, forecasting, Christmas TV, innovation, balancing the system, DSR, EFCC

Forecasters need to accurately predict the peaks in demand that happen when the UK’s favourite TV shows finish.


When Strictly Come Dancing waltzes off our screens on Christmas Day, millions of kettles will be flicked on, lights illuminated and fridges opened. Demand for electricity will surge higher than the Strictly judges’ scores.

As System Operator, it’s National Grid’s duty to accurately predict these festive peaks, so we can effectively balance supply and demand on the system. It’s up to an expert team of forecasters to look at past trends, behavioural data and weather predictions in order to establish just how much power will be needed over the Christmas period.

Surprisingly, overall demand on Christmas Day is actually one of the lowest of the winter period. However, it’s the nation’s TV habits that make the picture more complex for the company’s team of forecasters.

Ten million mince pies

This year, for example, they’re predicting Christmas Day Strictly will create 400MW of extra demand – enough to light 40 million Christmas trees – while the last ever Great British Bake Off is expected to pull an additional 450MW – enough to bake 10 million mince pies.

While the size of these spikes has fallen over the years – from a high of 1,340MW at the end of Only Fools and Horses in 1996 – it still requires careful management.

Historically, large coal-powered generators would have been fired up to supply the required power. But in today’s increasingly decarbonised electricity landscape, National Grid responds in a fundamentally different way thanks to a diverse energy mix that includes wind, solar and battery storage.

Transforming the UK’s power system

Balancing services such as Demand Side Response allow newer technologies and energy consumers to play their part in stabilising the system. Last year, we also procured the Enhanced Frequency Response service that will eventually help control system frequency on the system faster than ever before.

Meanwhile, the business works closely with Distribution Network Operators to make sure new sources of locally connected generation are connected quickly and efficiently to the grid.

This ongoing commitment to innovation, investment and collaboration with industry stakeholders has seen National Grid transform the UK’s energy system. As a result, 7.7GW of low-carbon generation was connected to the grid between April 2015 and March 2016. It’s the equivalent of two power stations’ worth of locally connected generation, and adds up to 2.6m tonnes of carbon saved.

National Grid is also closely involved in a number of projects that have been awarded funding by Ofgem through the Network Innovation Competition.

As well as the work around an Enhanced Frequency Response service mentioned above, we are also working with our partners on a TDI 2.0 project to study and test how power generated by renewables throughout the distribution network can be used to improve the management of power grids.

So when Strictly’s final quick-step has been stepped, remember that National Grid will be working hard behind the scenes to balance the grid more safely, efficiently and economically than ever before.

Prominent Christmas Day pick-ups through the decades

1997 – One Foot in the Grave 630MW

2001 – Only Fools and Horses 870MW

2004 – Premiere of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone 630MW

2006 – Vicar of Dibley 670MW

2008 – Coronation Street 730MW

2010 – Strictly Come Dancing 630MW

2015 – Downton Abbey – The Finale 470MW


Further reading

For more information on DSR visit the Power Responsive website.

Donna Hunt of Head of Sustainability at Aggregate Industries describes how her company is broadening its thinking to take full advantage of the possibilities of Demand Side Response.

Dr Alastair Martin, Chief Strategy Officer of Flexitricity, takes a look at some common myths relating to Demand Side Response and gives his view on the opportunities that are available.

Gas innovation in full flow
Surprisingly, overall demand on Christmas Day is actually one of the lowest of the winter period.

National Grid.