The Public Services: E L E C T R I C I T Y 
The Public Services: Electricity
Once a great institution, the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) was responsible for the generation and distribution of electricity in the UK...

Photo: Stwlan Dam, Blaenau Ffestiniog © Fynevue 1978
| EXIT | Electricity | CEGB | Battersea | Bankside | Pumped Storage | More Power |

Earlier Days

Electricity generation was initially carried out by small power plants of multiple ownership serving the demands of local areas. The London Power Company was formed in 1925 with the aim of consolidation by building a small number of very large power stations and to sell the electricity to anyone who wanted it. Their first plant was Battersea Power Station.

Operating and technical standards still varied from one company to another and thus the Central Electricity Board (CEB) was set up under the Electricity (Supply) Act of 1926 to standardise the nation's electricity supply.

Parliament finally decided that the power grid should be a single system under public ownership, which was enabled by the Electricity Act of 1947; it nationalised the industry, and established the British Electricity Authority (BEA) in 1948.

Following the Electricity Reorganisation (Scotland) Act 1954, the Central Electricity Authority (CEA) ran the United Kingdom's electricity supply industry. The CEA was dissolved by the Electricity Act of 1957 and thus the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) and the Electricity Council gained authority in 1958.


The Central Electricity Generating Board (GEGB) was in its simplest form a group of engineers dedicated to the supply and distribution of electricity to safely meet the expected demand, at the lowest cost. The CEGB was set up on 1st April 1958.

The Area Boards

In 1966 the 14 area boards were:
  • London
  • South Eastern
  • Southern
  • South Western
  • Eastern
  • East Midlands
  • Midlands
  • South Wales
  • Merseyside & North
  • Yorkshire
  • North Eastern
  • North Western
  • South of Scotland
  • North of Scotland

The National Control Centre which calculated the number of power stations required on-line at any time, was once located in London. In the 21st century, there is no large scale generation of electricity, by conventional means, in the capital city.


Plants supplying electricity ranged from nuclear, coal, oil and gas fired stations, running 24 hours a day to meet the forecast demand. In the 1970s, pumped storage schemes, such as Ffestiniog were often used to meet unexpected demand due to their capability to be brought on-line at short notice.

The highest demand ever recorded on the National Grid system was 54,430MW in the half hour ending 17:30hrs on 10th December 2002.

The National Grid was established in 1935. Alternating current (a.c.) from the power stations is produced typically at 11kV and is stepped up and fed into the National Grid transmission lines which vary from 132kV, 275kV up to 400kV. Local sub stations transform this voltage to 415V three-phase for supply to industrial premises and 240V single-phase for domestic premises. Exceptionally, some business premises have an 11kV feed if their maximum demand is very high.
The National Grid Control was opened in Bankside in 1938.

 Photo: The Electricity Museum at Amberley © Fynevue 2000

On 31st March 1990 the CEGB was dissolved as the UK electricity industry began the privatisation process.

From April 1990 the Electricity Supply Industry was made up of :

  • The National Grid Company
  • Powergen
  • National Power
  • Nuclear Electric.

The National Grid and Powergen were privatised first. Nuclear Electric joined with Scottish Nuclear to later become British Energy.


European Voltage Harmonisation From 1st January 1995 the Electrical Supply Amendment No. 2 Regulations (SI 3021 : 1994) amended the UK nominal supply voltage to 230V with a permitted voltage tolerance of +10% -6%. In practice it's still 240V, but is allowed to vary by a greater percentage.

CE means 'fit for the purpose' and is much like the 'green circle' approval markings applied to equipment in the early deregulated telecoms market. CE ensures conformity and safety for a wide range of products available throughout Europe. It probably stands for Communauté Européenne being French for 'European Community', but it could equally mean 'Conformité Européenne'.
Battersea Power Station

The first power plant of the London Power Company (LPC) was Battersea Power Station which was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. The building was a steel-framed structure with curtain-walling (brickwork) hung on the outside, just as American skyscrapers are constructed.

Battersea A

The original scheme comprised of a single long turbine hall with a chimney at either. Construction started in 1929 and by 1933 was producing power.

Battersea B

The matching half, another hall and two more chimneys were added in 1953, with gave the familiar iconic London landmark of the 20th century.

At completion the station had a total generating capacity of 509MW, and was also one of the most thermally efficient units of the age. The LPC used a gas-washing system which proved effective in removing more than 90 per cent of the sulphur from the chimney gases. Battersea was well known for its 'Art Deco' flooring and large functional control panels and switches which were a world apart from the microprocessor systems of the 1980s and beyond. However, both coal and oil fired stations were giving way to gas powered schemes.

Battersea A was mothballed circa 1975 and finally, in 1983, production at the site ended.

Battersea was given Grade II status as a listed building in 1981. Since about 1988 the buildings have been left to rot, despite attempts at developing the site as a theme park.

Bankside Power Station
Bankside Power Station
Bankside power station was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott in 1947. It was closed down in 1981 and stood unused on the side of the Thames until 1996 when the Tate trustees saw it as a potential site for a new art gallery to house the Tate collection of international modern art from 1900 to the present day.

Photo: Bankside 2010 © Fynevue
Pumped Storage Schemes
Pumped Storage Schemes
Ffestiniog Power Station was opened on 10th August 1963 by Her Majesty the Queen. The station was one of the first pumped hydro-electric systems in the UK. Ffestiniog can be brought on-line very quickly to cope with peaks in electricity demand. The upper reservoir at Llyn Stwlan creates a head of water which flows through large diameter pipes to the turbines much further down the mountain. During off-peak times, the water is pumped back up to the Stwlan Dam.

Photo: The winding road to the Stwlan Dam © Fynevue 1978
More Power

Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (1880-1960)

As an architect, his bold urban designs were a lasting tribute to industrialism:
  • Anglican Cathedral, Liverpool (1903)
  • Battersea Power Station, London (1930)
  • Cambridge University Library (1931)
  • The Red Telephone Box: K2 (1924), K3 (1928), K6 (1935)
  • Waterloo Bridge, London - Between 1937 and 1945 Peter Lind & Company rebuilt the bridge to a design by Sir Giles.
  • Bankside Power Station, London (1947) 'The cathedral of power.'

His grandfather, Sir George Gilbert Scott, designed the Albert Memorial and St. Pancras Station Hotel, London.

Liverpool Cathedral the official site.

Drax was one the largest coal burning stations when it was built in 1965. Today, its policy is to is enable a zero carbon, lower cost energy future.

The National Grid distributing electricity within the UK.

EMFs Electro Magnetic Fields, a study of.

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