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The World Cup is one of the most popular sporting events on the planet, but why does an intense penalty shoot out being played in Brazil mean that UK businesses may need to support the national power grid? 

The solar eclipse of 1999 saw the strongest grid surge in British history. As the sun began to reappear, the cumulative effect of people going back to their daily tasks, all at the same time, saw an electricity demand surge of 3,000MW in the space of just a few minutes; the equivalent of an extra 4 million people demanding electricity from the system.

15 years later, the intricate forecasting of system stress events continue to play an unseen but integral role in keeping the lights on.

To understand what electricity demand on the system may be like during this summer's World Cup, National Grid have surveyed the population to see who will be watching, looked at data from other events like the Olympic Games and the Royal Wedding to see how the demand for electricity changed, and watched countless hours of football games; all to make sure Britain's lights – and televisions – will stay on.

Even small decisions and details, like how much extra time is awarded and the emotions that players express during the match, can change the way electricity is used in the home.

So what happens during a surge?

Electricity on the grid comes from various different sources, which all have varying flexibility, cost and carbon impact.
For power generation, hydro-electric power stations are by far the quickest to respond, taking about 10 seconds to ramp up, in comparison to nuclear, which can take 48 hours; that's a long time to wait for a cup of tea!

National Grid have the job of mixing and matching these different sources to ensure that there is enough supply to meet demand while you're watching the match.

But with about 20% of the UK's traditional power stations due to close by 2020, National Grid have sought out flexible, innovative ways to match supply and demand.

Businesses helping to keep the lights on

Demand side response (DSR) helps to do just that. Across the country, thousands of industrial and commercial electricity customers will soon be able to help keep the lights, and the television, on.

Businesses that have the flexibility to reduce the amount of electricity they need, by turning off equipment or by using back-up generators (like gas engines or combined heat and power) can now sign up to a scheme to help National Grid manage demand and keep the lights on.

At times when the power generation struggles to meet demand (so called system stress) for example during popular events, or on a very cold and dark, winter night, businesses signed up to the scheme will receive an alert from National Grid to reduce the electricity demand of their site; and in return, they will be paid for this reduction in demand. This demand shift can be immediate, providing very fast responses at times of a few seconds.

This kind of activity is often called smart grid energy because by reducing demand and using existing electricity generating equipment we can avoid building new power stations. All this means that the UK's lights stay on at a lower cost to the consumer.

So next time you and 1.1 million other people reach for the kettle after the match, just think what lengths National Grid and their team of analysts, power stations and now businesses are going to, for you to be able to flick that switch.

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