Lord O’Neill, the former chair of the Trade & Industry Select Committee and the Nuclear Industries Authority has been appointed chairman of SmartGrid GB – the new cross industry group set-up to champion Smart Grid development in Britain.

Smart Grids will transform the way energy is generated, distributed and consumed and will be critical for addressing the key energy challenges of security, affordability and de-carbonisation.

Speaking on his appointment, O’Neill said, “Over the next few decades every country around the world is going to have to switch to Smart Grids. This is a massive growth opportunity for our country. We have the skills, capabilities and technologies to become world leaders. But the competition is moving fast and unless we get moving we’ll miss out on growth and jobs. The government talks about having a new industrial strategy and picking races not winners. Well Smart Grids are a race worth winning.”

Quoting figures from SmartGrid GB’s recent report on the economic benefits of Smart Grid development, O’Neill explained, “We now know that smart grid development could deliver £13bn of GVA to the economy whilst also supporting the growth of industries like electric vehicles and supporting an export economy worth £5bn.”

“This is a race which offers a huge prize. The government and regulator have so far done much to be proud of – particularly the Low Carbon Networks Fund – but we have to be more ambitious if we are going to lead the world in Smart Grids.”

Charles Hendry MP, minister of state for energy and climate change, welcomed the announcement of Lord O’Neill’s appointment. He said, “Lord O’Neill’s appointment as chairman of Smart Grid GB is welcome news and I’m looking forward to working with him. In its first year, Smart Grid GB has been at the forefront in driving the Smart Grid agenda in Britain and Lord O’Neill can play an important role in maintaining that momentum.

Earlier this year SmartGrid GB published a report called ‘Smart Grid: A race worth winning’, which identified major economic benefits for Britain if it becomes a global leader in Smart Grid development. Not only did the report find that deploying Smart Grid infrastructure was £19bn cheaper than ‘business as usual’, but it also found major growth in Smart Grid enabled industries such as electric vehicles.

However, the report also warned that although the UK is currently well placed to become a world leader in Smart Grid technology there is a “decreasing time window to do so” with other countries, notably South Korea, China and the US all developing Smart Grids.