In A Nutshell
Following the broadcast of a popular television program, the British power network often experiences a massive spike in usage as thousands of people switch on their electric kettles and make cups of tea. Luckily for the populace, there’s a special facility in Wales built solely to cope with this nightly demand: the Dinorwig hydroelectric power plant.
The Whole Bushel
Nestled among the trees and mountains and beautiful valleys in Wales’ Snowdonia National Park lays the Dinorwig hydroelectric power plant. If the stereotypes are to be believed, this unassuming facility is vital to the survival to Britain, although not for the reasons that you might suspect.
First some context. Built in 1974 on the site of an abandoned slate quarry, its original purpose was simple: to “soak up” the excess power generated by several nuclear power plants that the government planned to construct. As nuclear plants are required at run 24/7 at full capacity, the power generated by these at night would have gone to waste and potentially damaged the power grid, as (obviously) less power is used at night than during the day.
However, with the arrival of the 1980s, the government dropped their nuclear ambitions in favour of the opportunities of the gas reserves present in places like the North Sea. After 10 years and £425 million in building costs, the country couldn’t afford to left Dinorwig fall into disuse before it had even opened, so it was repurposed as a Short-Term Operating Reserve (STOR). An afterthought at the time, Dinorwig soon proved to be one of the most important assets in the British power grid, all thanks to a phenomenon known as “TV pickup.”
Across the country, the appearance of advertising breaks or ending credits on television screens heralds a massive surge in the power network, as thousands and thousands of electric kettles the length and breadth of the land are switched on to make tea. No, we aren’t making this up. The National Grid—the organization responsible for managing and maintaining the power network—monitors popular television programs and, just prior to a break or end in programming, they bring the station online to cope with the anticipated increase in demand. After being activated, Dinorwig can go from producing 0 megawatts to 1,800 megawatts within 16 seconds, a supply that it can maintain for six hours nonstop.