Posted in Kafevend Blog

What makes a cup? Electricity

It's that day of the week again when we return to our fledgling series and consider: what makes a cup? After dealing with water and subsequently the kettle, today we are going to have a look at something we rely on to make the modern kettle work- electricity. Now you might be thinking 'could you get anymore tangential?' and you'd be right- at first glance, this seems rather odd. But our love of tea and coffee and preferred method for making it actually has a big impact on the nation's grid, as you'll soon find out. First however, of course, is a little history...

Mystery force

Humans have been aware of electricity for thousands of years, though it has taken a while to truly understand it. The earliest evidence we have of their knowledge dates back to 2750 BCE- the ancient Egyptians wrote about a fish they called the "Thunderer of the Nile", in reference to the shock they knew it was able to deliver.

The name electricity is a much more recent invention, coined by the 16th century Elizabethan physicist William Gilbert. He called it electricus, meaning of amber or like amber, based on the Greek elektron which is their word for amber. This association is due to amber's ability to generate a static charge when rubbed with a cloth and attract small objects, an experiment that puzzled many thinkers, such as Gilbert, as they pondered what was causing it.

TV pickup

These days we understand and are capable of producing great amounts of electricity in a wide variety of ways. Our ability to store that energy for use at a later date isn't anywhere near as good, however. What this means is that the electricity produced in the UK has to be done so essentially in real time: when more is needed, facilities ramp up production and other facilities may be put into action. Conversely, when less is needed, production is reduced in order to prevent unnecessary waste and lower the cost.

In the UK there is a commonly occurring phenomenon known as TV pickup related to this, and it most often occurs thanks to our drinking habits. Have you ever used an advert break to go and make yourself a cup of tea or coffee? If you do, you are not alone in this. Normally this wouldn't be too much of an issue, but when a particularly popular program is on- and almost everyone watching it uses the ad break at the end to get a drink- it actually produces a sudden and sizable demand on the grid. In order to deal with this, there are people whose job it is to monitor programs and other events that may cause a sudden surge- or dip- and quickly call into action power stations around the country to deal with the supply and demand. Think about that next time you go to make a drink after your regular soap opera- somebody's making sure your lights don't go out when you switch the kettle on!


TV pickup

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