Papal election prompted electric switch-off

Demand drop came as white smoke was seen

Electricity usage in Ireland plummeted as families turned off ovens and abandoned games consoles to gather around the television and watch the election of Pope Francis, new figures reveal.

The election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as leader of the world’s 1.2billion Catholics on March 13 generated the biggest drop in electricity demand recorded in the country in 2013.

EirGrid, the company which operates the national grid and ensures adequate supplies, said such was the interest in the election of the Pontiff that enough power for 90,000 homes dropped off the system.

In all, demand for power fell by 142 megawatts (MW), 3% 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 the spokesman said.

Just over an hour later at 7.12pm, as electricity demand plummeted across the country, Cardinal Protodeacon Jean-Louis Tauran appeared on the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica to announce that Cardinal Bergoglio of Buenos Aires would become the first ever Jesuit Pope.

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

He said 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.