UK Utilities - From Brown to Green

Since the 17th and 18th century Britons have used natural gas for lighting, heating and running machinery. Scottish engineer William Murdoch was the first to put this to practical use by lighting his house in Cornwall in 1792. Later, his employers, the Birmingham steam engine manufacturers Boulton and Watt, started to build small gas works for factories. Gas lighting became extremely popular and within 15 years, almost every large town in Britain, Europe, North America and beyond, had gas works. Gas cookers became popular after the Great Exhibition of 1851 but only the rich could afford them. Coal remained the preferred fuel for heating homes for most of the 20th century. However, the popularity of gas fires increased massively after the Clean Air Act of 1956, due to the restrictions on the use of coal in urban areas. Throughout the 20th century, the gas industry had seen improvements on the efficiency of gas manufacture and from the late 1950's onwards, new processes were developed for making gas from petroleum products. These plants produced gas at much higher pressures than was possible with coal, enabling the gas to be transported longer distances.


During the twentieth century electricity became the world’s most important source of energy. Even though wind turbines were invented before World War II and at the beginning of the twentieth century, spark-ignition and diesel engines were developed and could be used for making electricity, steam power and hydro-power stations provided most of the global power generation until the beginning of the fifties.

The Electricity Act 1957 established the Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) and the Electricity Council. Under this act, the structure of the nationalised electricity supply industry in England and Wales aimed to produce most of the electricity used in the UK.

In the fifties we saw the arrival of Nuclear power. It was believed to be a modern and cheap source of energy. It first expanded in the USA and then Great Britain, France and Germany invested heavily. In 1973, world oil prices rose dramatically with the Arab-Israeli war. By then, oil was still a major fuel for power stations. A lot of countries began to seek new ways of generating electricity, including renewable energy.

During the eighties, a widespread concern for the environment hit the electricity industry. The industry started to implement measures to reduce environmental emissions from fossil-fuel-fired power plants. These measures accelerated the development of Solar and Wind technologies and other renewable sources of electricity such as; fuel cells, marine energy, offshore wind farms multiplied around the shores of Europe. A lot of these new sources of electricity are now technically and economically viable.

The total indirect greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas today are around 200 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, due to the pollution it causes and its massive impact on the environment it is referred to as brown energy. To tackle the huge issue of global warming and carbon emissions, pioneers in the gas industry have found a green option. Today, most existing green gas plants currently operating in the UK use non-sustainable biodegradable matter like animal manure, food waste, agricultural crops, bi-products and human sewage.


To tackle the issue of sustainability companies are working on ways to produce gas from grass and it is thought that in theory 97% of domestic gas could be generated by grass by 2035. There’s huge potential for green gas to make a big contribution in reducing carbon emissions and building a more energy independent Britain.

Green gas or bio-methane, is made from biodegradable materials, it turns organic matter (like plants or grass) into bio-methane, through a process called anaerobic digestion at green gas mills. It can then be used in the same way as energy from fossil fuels – to heat your home or cook with. The biggest difference between green gas and traditional fossil fuel gas, is that bio-methane is renewable and virtually carbon neutral, so it does not contribute towards climate change.


We hope that renewable green energy will contribute significantly to the electricity generation mix of the twenty-first century.

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