independent

Monday 21 April 2014

Power and glory: white smoke from Vatican sparked national grid plunge

IT wasn't a sporting event, political moment or even the final episode of 'Love/Hate' that made us all down tools and stop using the vast bulk of our electrical appliances last year.

The election of Pope Francis as head of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics on March 13 generated the biggest drop in electricity demand recorded in 2013.

Meanwhile, the national grid operator reported that a record amount of Ireland's electricity need was generated by wind turbines in the blustery weather before Christmas.

EirGrid said such was the interest in the election of the Catholic church's 266th pontiff last March that enough power for 90,000 homes dropped off the system.

In all, demand for power fell by 142MW (megawatts), 3pc of total demand at the time, an EirGrid spokesman said.

The reduction began at 6.07pm, Irish time, when white smoke appeared above the Vatican indicating a new pope had been chosen. With the news broadcast around the world on radio, television and on internet sites, people began flocking to their TVs.

Just over an hour later at 7.12pm, as electricity demand plummeted across the country, Cardinal Protodeacon Jean-Louis Pierre Tauran appeared on the balcony of St Peter's Square to announce that the little-known Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires would become the first ever Jesuit pope.

Pope Francis I appears on the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on March 13, 2013 just after his election
Pope Francis I appears on the central balcony of St Peter's Basilica on March 13, 2013 just after his election

The drop in demand during November's nerve-wracking Ireland-All Blacks clash was a paltry 30MW in comparison. The spokesman explained that when large numbers of people watch an event together they can cause demand to be reduced temporarily and then to rise after the event is over.

This is because people will often gather in one room around one television, and defer other uses of electricity until after the event.

Figures from the EirGrid National Control Centre, where supply and demand for power are monitored, show that such was the excitement around the announcement from the Vatican that the temporary non-usage of power resulted in the drop being measured and recorded.

Past examples of televised events where demand has changed in a measurable way included Katie Taylor's victorious Olympic final bout and medal presentation in 2012, when demand fell by more than 6pc.

Supporters in homes and pubs around Ireland watching Ireland's opening Euro 2012 match in Poznan on television also caused significant changes in demand.

There was an increase after full-time of about 170MW -- the equivalent of the usage of over 110,000 homes -- or approximately 7pc of demand at the time.

The first Ireland v England rugby match in Croke Park and the famous penalty shoot-out involving the Republic of Ireland team in the Italia '90 World Cup also caused large falls and spikes in demand.

EirGrid also reported that Ireland set a new record for wind energy on December 17 when 1,769MW of power was produced, enough for more than one million homes.

CONTROVERSIAL

The week December 9 to 15 also set a record for production over the week, with 36pc of all our energy requirements coming from wind.

Separately, a public consultation on the controversial €500m GridLink pylon project from Cork to Kildare ends on Tuesday.

EirGrid encouraged people to send submissions by post to the Grid Link Project Manager, EirGrid, PO Box 12213, Glenageary, Co Dublin, by email at gridlink@eirgrid.com or by phone at 1890 422 122.

Further information is at eirgridprojects.com/projects/gridlink.

Irish Independent

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