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Central Electricity Generating Board
Type Now defunct
Founded 1957
Headquarters United Kingdom
Area served England and Wales
Industry Energy
Broken up into National Grid Company, National Power, Powergen and later Nuclear Electric.

The Central Electricity Generating Board (CEGB) was the cornerstone of the British electricity industry for almost 40 years; from 1957, to privatisation in the 1990s.

Because of its origins in the immediate post-war period, when electricity demand grew rapidly but plant and fuel availability was often unreliable, most of the industry saw its mission as to provide an adequate and secure electricity supply, or "to keep the lights on" as they put it, rather than necessarily pursuing the cheapest generation route.

The CEGB was created from the Central Electricity Authority (which in turn had replaced the British Electricity Authority) in 1957. The Electricity Council was also created at that time, as a policy making body for the Electricity Supply Industry.



Under the nationalised structure, the CEGB was responsible for electricity generation in England and Wales, whilst in Scotland electricity generation was carried out by the South of Scotland Electricity Board and the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board.

The organisation was unusual in that most of its senior staff were professional engineers, but with excellent support in financial and risk-management areas.

Some people feel that it represented the best of Government planning, others feel that it had become a monolith that exemplified the worst aspects of central planning, and was ripe for reform. It is probably the case that, in its most successful period, up until the mid 1970s, it was managed in a way broadly comparable to large private-sector energy majors such as BP, but that it was late to respond to the changed pattern of energy growth following the second oil crisis.



Control of the National Grid

At the centre of the CEGB's infrastructure was the National Control Room of the National Grid located in London, which was part of the control hierarchy for the system at that time. There were also both Area and District Grid Control Rooms, which were originally located at Newcastle upon Tyne, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham, St Albans, East Grinstead and Bristol. The shift Control Engineers who worked in these control rooms would cost, schedule and load dispatch an economic commitment of generation to the main interconnected system (the 400/275/132kV network) at an adequate level of security. They also had information about the running costs and availability of every power producing plant in England and Wales. It was, at these control centres that they would constantly anticipate demand, monitor and instruct the power stations to either produce or reduce electricity production, or stop producing electricity altogether. They used what was known as the "merit order" which established a system of ranking each generator in the power stations based upon how much they cost to produce electricity. The objective was to ensure that electricity production was always achieved at the lowest possible cost.

Research and development

The CEGB had an extensive R&D section with its three principal laboratories at: Leatherhead (Central Electricity Research Laboratory, CERL); Marchwood Engineering Laboratory (MEL); and, Berkeley Nuclear Laboratories (BNL). There were also at one time, five regional facilities. These Scientific Service Departments had a base in each Region. A major SSD role was solving engineering problems with the several designs of 500MW units. These were a significant increase in unit size and had many teething problems, most of which were solved to result in reliable service and gave good experience towards the design of the 660MW units.


Although electricity privatisation began in 1990, the CEGB continued to exist until The Central Electricity Generating Board (Dissolution) Order 2001, a statutory instrument, came into force on 9 November 2001.

The present electricity market in the UK was built upon the breakup of the CEGB initially into two generating companies and the National Grid Company. So National Grid, PowerGen and National Power were privatised in the early 1990s. However the privatisation process was delayed as the nuclear component in National Power was removed and vested in a new company called Nuclear Electric. Thus all the nuclear power stations were held in public ownership for a number of years, before merging parts of Nuclear Electric with Scottish Nuclear in 1995 and privatising the new company British Energy in 1996. A proportion of the old CEGB's nuclear stations, its older Magnox reactors, remained in public ownership as Magnox Electric, and were later combined with BNFL.

Powergen is now owned by the German utility company E.ON. National Power split into a UK business, Innogy, now owned by the German utility company RWE and known as npower, and an international business, International Power.

See also


  1. Rob Cochrane (with additional research by Maryanna Schaefer) (1990). The CEGB Story. CEGB.
  2. The Central Electricity Generating Board (Dissolution) Order 2001 full text.
  3. IEA / OECD (2005): "Lessons from Liberalised Electricity Markets"


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