Posted: 30 May 2014
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Managing the Cup

John Young, Energy Forecasting Analyst, tells Connecting why watching the World Cup is just part of his day job.

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Managing the Cup

Managing the Cup

A National Grid analyst looks back at a major football match to help predict surges in demand.

"We’ve pored over the data from previous tournaments to help us predict the level of generation we need to have in reserve..."

John Young, Energy Forecasting Analyst


2,800MW - the peak power surge after England were defeated in a penalty shootout against West Germany in the Semi-Final of the 1990 FIFA World Cup. The equivalent of 1.1 million kettles being switched on at the same time!

Source: National Grid

The World Cup semi-final between West Germany and England is remembered for a number of things – Gazza’s tears and penalty misses to name just a couple.

However it was a significant moment for National Grid, as the post-match clamour for a consoling cuppa led to the largest TV pick-up in history.

TV pick-ups happen when a large number of people across Great Britain collectively switch on kettles and lights during a break in programming or after a major event, like a big sports match or the climax of a major soap storyline.

These pick-ups mean that in the control room at National Grid, we have to make sure we line up enough electricity generation to meet these spikes in demand. So we use historical data from previous World Cups – and our state of the art forecasting tools – to make sure we can handle the additional demand for electricity. This is all part of our day-job as electricity system operator, making sure supply balances with demand, minute by minute, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The games at this year’s World Cup kick off in the evening in the UK. Many of the matches will occur over traditional evening peak – when businesses are still working but people are getting home and turning on appliances. The later matches will coincide with streetlights and domestic lighting turning on across the country.


An infographic detailing the largest TV pick-up in history, England’s loss to West Germany in the 1990 FIFA World Cup. Click to enlarge.

All this creates a challenge for us, but it’s one that the forecasting team relishes. We’ve pored over the data from previous tournaments to help us predict the level of generation we need to have in reserve, so when we call on power stations to ramp up, they respond to the call. Even small decisions, like how much injury time the referee adds on, can affect our response.

Much like the World Cup itself, as we progress through the tournament, the challenge only gets harder.

As the West Germany v England graphic shows (right), penalties and extra time can delay or suppress expected pick-ups, and keep our control room (as well as the nation) on the edge of their seats.

This summer’s tournament will be a major event for the whole of the country, particularly if England can progress to the final stages. The forecasting team and the engineers at the control room at National Grid will be watching every kick closely, hoping our predictions are true, much like the viewers at home.

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