An ocean of green opportunity as UK's first seabed opens up to energy firms

THE first stretch of water off the UK will today be opened for business for the development of marine renewable energy, The Scotsman can reveal.

The Pentland Firth off Orkney – the area of sea that gives Scotland the potential to be "the Saudi Arabia of renewables" – will become the focus of attention of dozens of renewables firms across the world.

The Crown Estate, which owns the seabed out to the 12-nautical-mile limit, will begin the process of inviting developers to express interest in building marine energy schemes in the area.

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As The Scotsman revealed on Saturday, renewables companies from across the world have already shown interest in the potential of the site.

Alex Salmond, the First Minister, wants to see marine energy sources help turn Scotland into Europe's green energy capital. The Crown Estate has predicted that 700 megawatts of power could be generated from marine energy projects in the Pentland Firth by 2020. It believes the Firth and surrounding waters contain six of the top ten sites in the UK suitable for tidal power development.

Rob Hastings, the Crown Estate's director of marine estate, said: "Today's announcement is an important step because the quality of renewable energy in existence, particularly in the north of Scotland is vast.

"To start that process of being able to get access to these resources is a really important step. We are really excited about it. It's a great opportunity."

He described the Pentland Firth as "a very energetic place" and said one of the reasons it was chosen as the first area to open up to marine renewable projects was because the Scottish Government had shown support by carrying out an environmental assessment of the site. "There's a very strong desire within Scotland to explore these types of energy resources," he said.

Mr Hastings said he was already aware of interest in the site from across the world, including from firms in North America, Europe, the Far East and Australia as well as in Scotland.

As a result, he thinks Scotland has the potential to lead the way in the marine energy field.

"There's going to be a need for some very clear strategic thinking for that to happen," he said. "That will largely have to be led by the Scottish Government.

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"It's clear that the resources are there. There's also a fairly strong skill set and capability with regard to offshore construction that comes from the oil and gas sector. If these skills could be transferred that would give a degree of advantage to Scotland."

He thinks Scotland's economy, ability to achieve its emissions reduction targets, and security of the country's energy supply can all benefit.

"In the current world we have some severe economic difficulties and some potential difficult times coming to do with energy and how you secure the supply of it. If Scotland is making strong moves to effectively become self-sufficient with an energy resource which is low in carbon and emissions, it suggests we are heading in the right direction."

However, he said there was still a huge barrier to development due to the lack of grid capacity to transmit electricity from the remote locations in the Pentland Firth to the rest of the country.

Under the Round 1 leasing programme, the Crown Estate will check what local community benefits each developer can incorporate into their scheme, and all commercial development will be subject to an environmental impact assessment.

The process will take into account the wide range of stakeholder interests including international shipping routes, ferry traffic, fishing, defence and environment.

The initial devices to be installed are expected to be full-size demonstration devices deployed in small arrays.