Business Gas & Electricity: UK history

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The UK is very lucky to be one of the first countries in the world to electrify, and to use gas to heat and light the streets of the country. 

Gas and Electricity in the 1800s

British Gas traces its roots to the days of Waterloo. It used to be known as The Gas Light & Coke Company (GLCC) and gained royal approval in 1812. 

1816 sees the first town in the UK get gas-powered streetlights. By 1827, British Gas (or GLCC if you prefer) was powering 70,000 streetlights in London. By 1868, the world got its first domestic water heater.

The very first act of Parliament was in 1879. The Liverpool Corporation electric lighting act 1879 was the first electric lighting act to be passed by the British Parliament. The act led to electric streetlights in the UK. 

The Liverpool Electric Corporation was the first UK company to be able to supply electricity to the streets of the country. If you thought nationalisation is something new, the electric lighting act of 1882 allowed local authorities to take over the assets of companies who generate electricity after 21 years of operations. You may not be surprised that this act was repealed in 1989.

Did you know that the very first power station which was coal-powered and was opened at 57 Holborn Viaduct, London. It was a 110 V DC power station and was used to light the streets of London sadly it went bankrupt and had to go out of business in 1886. 

The UK government was always concerned to get as much electricity in the country as possible, so it passed another electric lighting act in 1888. This allowed private enterprise to own electric companies for 42 years. This act was also repealed in 1989. 

The county borough of Belfast gained the power to generate and sell electricity with the Belfast electric lighting order of 1890. Scotland gained legislative powers to generate electricity with the electric lighting Scotland act of 1890. 

Sebastien Ziani de Ferranti designed the first AC power system in the UK. He did it with London Electric Supply Corporation and the station was the Deptford power station.

The electric lighting act of 1899 which was subsequently repealed in 1989 is the first attempt at regulating the terms and conditions of how electricity is supplied in the country. If you're wondering where those terms and conditions came from this is the beginning of the journey. 

The first three-phase electric power station was opened in Newcastle upon Tyne. It was called the Neptune Bank Power Station. Today this is the most common method used by electric grids worldwide to transfer power. 

Gas and Electricity in the early 1900s

In 1904 London got its act to manage the supply of electricity the London Electric lightning areas act. 

The London Underground built its power station in 1905 which was called the Lotts Road power station.

Believe it or not, in the early 1900s, London had a tramway system. The London County Council started the Greenwich power station with four 3500 kW units uniquely dedicated to power the London's tramway system. 

If you are keen to know about the history of the London County Council you would be interested to know that in 1908 it got the full powers to purchase electricity through the London electric supply act. 

The first attempt at regulating electricity utilities came in 1919. The electricity supply act of 1919 established the electricity commission and created electricity Commissioners. The purpose of the act was to coordinate and centralise generation in large power stations owned by the joined electricity authorities. The act came into being after the Williamson report. The electricity act was repealed in 1989. 

The first London electricity act in 1925 began to create bigger energy companies around the south and east London. 

The London Power Co was formed in 1925 after the passage of the second London electricity act. The London Power Co brought together a small number of large power stations such as Willesden, Bow, Deptford and Battersea. The National Grid was born in 1926 together with the Central electricity board. 

Northern Ireland gained its first electricity board in 1931.

In 1932 the UK built the tallest towers to transmit electricity with the span of 3060 feet across the River Thames. 

The iconic Battersea Power Station was commissioned in 1933 by the London Power Co. 

The first regulation of tariffs was attempted in 1935 with the 1935 electricity supply act. This act also allowed the Central electricity board to supply electricity directly to the railways. 

The national grid became fully integrated in 1938 and is the foundation of the modern National Grid system that powers the country today. As World War II started in 1939, the UK government for the first time actively sought to reduce the use of electricity consumption. The fuel and lighting order of 1939 required that everybody in the UK reduce their gas and electricity consumption to 75% of peacetime levels. 

The first energy ministry was established in 1942 to provide complete and total oversight of the coal, gas, electricity and oil industries. 

If you thought renewable energy was a new thing, think again. The hydroelectric development act of 1943 nationalised the development of the Highland water resources; it was Scotland's first major construction and management of hydroelectric projects in the Highlands. 

Believe it or not, there were 625 electricity companies in the UK by 1947. So if you thought deregulation and competition was something from the 80s, think again. Today we only have about 40 energy companies plus depending on how you count. 

DNOs or Distribution Network Operators

You may not know this but the UK is not a single energy market – there are 14 different areas, called DNOs. The origin of this is the electricity act of 1947 which merged 625 energy companies into leased areas originally there were 12 areas only. 

Different Energy Meters 

If you get confused by the different electricity metres, it is understandable. There are standard metres, economy seven, half-hourly, and a bunch of others. Parliament tried to regulate electricity metres with the electricity metre act in 1952. 

UK energy production and nuclear power

As you may know, the world entered the atomic age in the 1940s. From the beginning, the idea was to use atomic energy to generate cheap electricity for civilian purposes. 

The atomic energy authority act in 1954 created the first atomic energy authority. Its mission was to ensure that the UK can generate nuclear energy for the country. This was of course during the period when the challenges of nuclear energy generation were not well understood. The UK began to build its first nuclear power stations in 1962 when it commissioned a 275 MW nuclear station in Gloucestershire and the 300 MW station in Essex. 

UK energy production and massive power stations

In 1958 the UK commissioned huge energy power stations, able to generate 2000 MW of power. In the 1960s the UK began to build very long power lines. One of the first ones was 150 miles long. Another nuclear power station in Suffolk was commissioned in 1966. Finally, in 1969, the massive new 2000 MW generating unit was officially opened. 

UK energy in the 1970s

The 1970s saw the emergence of environmental concerns. The Secretary of State gained powers to regulate or prohibit the production supply management and purchase of petroleum gas trolling products and other chemicals used in fuel. 

Believe it or not in the 70s the UK ended up producing much more energy than it needed. The government closed down 23 power stations and mothballed 18. 

Economy 7 Meters are born

Many businesses today have an Economy 7 meter. Economy 7 metres are helpful because they enable households and businesses to save money in the evening. Evening usage has always been less expensive in the electricity grid. Economy 7 meters were introduced in 1978. 

UK Energy and the importance of gas supply

As you may know, gas is now a really important part of the UK energy supply. This again began in the late 1970s when the first gas turbines will introduce four main power generation. 

UK Energy and distributed power generation

Many today talk about distributed power. This is an old topic. Small scale Private generation was something that became popular in the 1980s. The UK Parliament passed the energy act of 1983 which allowed small power generation to be created by private enterprise. 

UK Energy- starting to clean up – acid rains

In the 1980s the world became concerned with acid rain. Acid rain is a terrible natural occurrence which is primarily caused by the industrial release of chemicals into the atmosphere. The European Commission, as well as other global organisations, was so concerned that they passed the large combustion Plant directive. The UK implemented it in 1988. 

UK energy, privatisation and the modern competition era

As you may recall Margaret Thatcher unleashed privatisation in the UK in the 1980s. British Gas Plc. was formed in 1986. Every Brit was encouraged to buy shares in the company. ‘Tell Sid’ ads flooded the airwaves.  

The Central electricity-generating Board was marked for privatisation in 1990. The privatisation created three new energy companies, Powergen, National Power and National Grid. Later on, a company called nuclear Electric was created to manage nuclear energy. Northern Ireland received its first privatised company in 1992 called premier Power. 

UK Energy and VAT

Many businesses today do not pay VAT on their energy. However, every household in the country pays VAT on any energy that they use. Energy VAT was introduced by the Conservative government in 1994. 

National Grid Plc., British Gas, and Ofgem

What is today known as the National Grid was created in 1995. In 1997, British Gas was split into separate companies, Centrica Plc and BG Plc.  The office of gas and electricity markets, otherwise known as Ofgem, was established in 2000 with the Utilities Act 2000 section 1. 

UK renewable energy and decommissioning nuclear power plants

The push for renewable energy use started in 2000. The Secretary of State gained powers to impose obligations on all electricity suppliers to use renewable energy as part of their generating capacity. The energy act of 2008 obliged that the energy companies have required renewable generation capacity. Becoming carbon-neutral or carbon zero became a priority in 2010 when the UK government was required to report on the progress made in reducing carbon emissions in the energy sector. Carbon storage and carbon capture become popular solutions. The work is still in progress. 

The first phase of the U.K.'s nuclear age started to come to an end in 2004. The nuclear decommissioning authority was charged with cleaning up civilian nuclear installations. 

The French come into the UK energy market.

If you have ever heard of smart metres, they were created in 2008 as part of the energy act 2008. The French came into the UK energy market in 2009, when EDF acquired British Energy. At that time, British Energy. was the largest electricity generation company in the UK. 

The UK is leaving the European Union, but its energy lines are tethered to the continent

While the UK is leaving the European Union, the country is tethered to the continent. A massive interconnect cable between the UK and the Netherlands was commissioned in 2011. It is named ‘BritNed'. It is 260km long. It transmits 1000 MW of energy. If you are keen on the trivia. The UK.'s tethered to the continent via the Isle of GRAIN in Kent and Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Business energy Companies in the UK in the modern age

Today, we have many companies competing for business electricity and gas supply to UK businesses. To see the list of companies please check out our blog here.

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