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gas industry began in the U.K. as a lighting solution in the latter part of
the 18th century by William Murdock who began working for James Watt with
steam pumping engines. The first gas used was coal gas. He got the idea
because, as a child, he used to heat coal in his motherís kettle and light the
spout as the gas emerged. In Cornwall, he ran the gas line from his own garden
to his house and in 1794 it became the first working model of gas lighting in
the world. After a demonstration in Paris, Murdockís bosses, Watt and Boulton,
ordered gas lamps installed at their Soho factory.
In 1805, the Prince of Wales, George IV had gas lighting installed in his home
in London and soon afterward the street at Pall Mall shone in the night under
newly installed gas lamps. The gas lighting trend spread to other cities and
in 1812 the first gas company, Gas Light and Coke Company, was founded in
Westminster. By 1817, Samuel Clegg, the chief engineer of the company
developed a gas meter and it began to be installed in Royal buildings. In
1820, there were over 288 miles of gas pipe and over 51,000 lamps.
Coal gas became dirtier to produce, new sources of gas were found in natural
deposits. Natural gas wells are located throughout Europe and Asia, with large
concentrations in northern Russia. Gas was first run by private local
companies but in 1948, the gas industry was nationalized by The Gas Act. 1062
private companies were merged into 12 Area Gas Boards. During the 1950s and
1960s, gas use increased dramatically in the U.K. and hundreds of thousands of
tons of liquefied natural gas was being imported from Africa each year.
Large-scale conversion to natural gas did not take place until 1966 when
natural gas was made mandatory. Large reserves of natural gas from the North
Sea supplied the country for the next ten years. The Gas Act of 1972 created
the British Gas Corporation and all the Area Gas Boards became regions of the
government-run corporation. Margaret Thatcherís Gas Act of 1986 privatized the
corporation and shares became publicly traded on the London stock market.
Competition was allowed 10 years later in 1996 and now five major companies
compete for the British market, regulated by xoserve, Energywatch, and OFGEM.
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