The Super Bowl Curve: How the Big Game Changes Electricity Use

5754

When most people plan for the Super Bowl, it’s about chili or wings, roast beef or roast pork, and whether celery or crackers go best with the cheese balls.

PJM Interconnection has been planning too – to deliver electricity to the 65 million people who are part of our coverage area spanning 13 states and the District of Columbia. And we can anticipate how much electricity people will need based on their past behavior for the big game.

The pattern – we call it the Super Bowl curve – is pretty consistent from year to year. But it’s a little different than you might think.

What Happened in 2018?

The highest demand hits not when everyone is gathered around the television, but when they’re doing everything else – cooking, cleaning, washing, eating, using the bathroom – before, during and after the game. All this happens, of course, with televisions on for the more than 100 million people watching.

A look at the curve for last year’s Super Bowl LII between the Eagles and the Patriots provides a terrific example.  

It starts out as a typical Sunday. Usage is down overnight and climbs as people begin their weekend routine – turning on lights, computers and appliances. Demand flattens out around lunchtime as people leave their homes to take care of errands.

The curve starts to climb again after 3:00 p.m. EST with electric ovens, Crock-Pots and hot plates turning on and food processors whirling. The pregame festivities are on television and the blenders and ovens are going full tilt. Generators in the PJM grid – whether they be natural gas, coal, nuclear, hydropower, wind, solar or fuel oil – have to be ready to supply those electrons. (You can see exactly what kind of fuel is powering the grid in real time at pjm.com or on the PJM Now app.)

As the chart at the top of this story shows, the curve spikes just before 6:00 p.m. EST as people finish their pregame prep with a final flurry before the Super Bowl broadcast gets underway, consuming hot water for showers or taking a final run to the fridge.

The curve heads down during the game, as the only activity is watching television. It pops up again at the end of the first half as everyone runs to the bathroom, grabs another drink or reheats the crab dip before the halftime show.

Justin Timberlake takes the stage at 8:19 p.m. EST for his 14-minute performance, and usage dips again as people settle in to watch. There’s a small jump in for last-minute preparations before the second half starts, and then demand heads downward as the game winds down.

If the game is close, electricity demand will remain low until the very end; if it’s a blowout people will start leaving the game and plugging in for other activities.

At the end of the game, there is a spike as the parties break up, everyone goes back to their own homes and gets ready for bed. In the Philadelphia region last year, the demand stayed high while Eagles fans celebrated the team’s first Super Bowl victory.

To operate a grid that supplies nearly a quarter of the electricity in the U.S., PJM has to be prepared. Thanks to years of watching human behavior, PJM has learned what we should expect for the Super Bowl, and how much power you will need to keep the TV on. So when you go to your Super Bowl party on Sunday, remember that PJM will be there to supply the power when you and your team make your contribution to the curve.