Ocean Energy Teams Compete for $16 Million Scotland Prize

People have long dreamed of harnessing the tremendous power of the ocean’s waves and tides. Off the jagged and wild coast of Scotland, a competition is now under way to demonstrate a practical means of capturing that vast renewable energy for electricity.

Four United Kingdom companies are vying for the Saltire Prize, a £10 million (about $16 million) award offered by the government of Scotland, which boasts that 25 percent of Europe’s tidal energy potential is surging off its shores. The prize will go to the first company that can demonstrate a viable, environmentally friendly ocean power system in Scotland’s waters.

The Saltire Prize was announced in 2008, building on the success of the $10 million Ansari X-Prize for commercial space flight. Last week, Scotland’s deputy first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, presided over the announcement of the Saltire Prize’s latest phase, called the Grand Challenge.

In this new phase, four companies will deploy test devices in the roiling seas off northern Scotland. The winner will produce the most electricity beyond a minimum hurdle of 100 gigawatt-hours over a continuous two-year period, using only the power of the sea. That would be just a tiny fraction of Scotland’s current energy consumption, about 40,000 gigawatt-hours per year. But it would be a huge achievement for ocean energy and an important breakthrough for Scotland, which has set an ambitious target of reaching 100 percent renewable electricity generation by 2020. Thanks largely to an extensive network of hydropower dams, Scotland now generates about 30 percent of its electricity from renewables.

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