Half-time power surge: Cups of tea and toilet flushes – just how much extra power is used at a football match’s half-time?

It’s nil-nil and a nail-biting match with non-stop end-to-end action. It’s extra time at the end of the first half and the other team are peppering the goal. The forward strikes and hits the bar. Your nerves are jangling and much to your relief the referee finally blows the half-time whistle. You get up relieved and go to the kitchen to put on the kettle followed by a trip to the toilet – you and millions of other football fans across the country.

It’s no secret that half-time during popular televised football matches are prone to national grid power surges.

In fact the phenomenon involving the surge of power that often occurs when large volumes of people watch the same TV programmes and take advantage of the commercial break is referred to as a TV pickup. Due to people on-mass doing things such as put the kettle on, going to the toilet, which when a toilet is flushed requires the use of electricity via the electric pumps that operate the sewers, and other electricity-demanding actions during the commercial breaks of the likes of football matches, electrical networks devote a considerable amount of time and resources predicting and providing extra supply for such events.

Let’s take the World Cup as an example. In 2006 England played a crucial match against Paraguay. Prior to the highly anticipated match, the National Grid warned that electricity usage could increase by as much as 1,500 megawatts at half-time, the equivalent of 600,000 kettles being switched on simultaneously.

According to the UK Tea Council, around 165 million cups of tea are consumed on a normal day in Britain. However on match day, tea consumption significantly surges.

Such is the surge of power during football matches that in preparation for the 2006 World Cup, the National Grid, which is responsible for the whole of the UK’s electricity transmission system, began planning for the tournament five years prior to it starting, to ensure it could meet the demand.

One of the biggest TV Pickups the country has experienced was in 1990 when England lost to Germany in the World Cup semi-finals. At the end of the match, power demand increased by a whopping 11 percent to 2,800 megawatts. This is equivalent to approximately one million kettles being switched on at the same time.

Speaking of the calming effect drinking tea has when watching football, William Gorman, chairman of the UK Tea Council told the BBC:

“Tea is a very calming drink with only a quarter of the caffeine of a filtered cup of coffee, which could be handy if it is a very exciting match.”

And of course the more tea we drink, the more we need the toilet – a no-win situation for the power grid!

So when you reach for the kettle and go to flush the toilet at half-time this Saturday or Sunday, just think of how many fellow football comrades are doing the same and perhaps leave the flushing until later and reach for a cold drink instead!