National Geographic News

Christine Dell'Amore

National Geographic News

Published April 2, 2008

Scotland will offer the world's largest prize to date for spurring advances in marine renewable energy, the country's head of state announced today. (Watch video.)

The Saltire Prize, of 20 million U.S. dollars, will go to innovators from any nation who design environmentally friendly ocean technology, such as better ways to harness tidal and wind power.

"This will ensure Scotland will be at the forefront of the battle against climate change and the move toward a new energy era," Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond told an audience at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C.

(The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

The competitors will demonstrate their inventions in Scotland.

Prize "Golden Age"

A new "golden age" in challenge prizes has inspired some of the most significant innovations in modern history, Salmond said.

For instance, the Ansari X-Prize for breakthroughs in human spaceflight saw a 200-U.S-million-dollar return in research and development on a 10-million-U.S.-dollar prize fund.

Salmond wanted to concentrate Scotland's marine-energy prize on where it might do the most good, he told National Geographic News.

"[We made a] decision to target an aspect of renewables that on one hand has amazing potential but is still in its infancy," he said.

"Looking at this array of prizes, renewables require an impetus, and this will electrify the renewables community and spur them on to greater effort."

The country of five million also has natural resources "unrivaled" across Europe, such as 25 percent of the continent's offshore wind resources and 10 percent of its wave potential, Salmond said.

Most Pressing Issue

The push for renewables comes in response to the looming threat of climate change, "the single most pressing issue facing the planet," Salmond said at the announcement.

A huge glacier the size of Connecticut that broke free from the Antarctic ice shelf last month is only the latest warning sign, he added.

(See a photo of the collapsed ice shelf.)

Terry Garcia, executive vice president for mission programs for the National Geographic Society, is one of the first two members of the Saltire prize committee.

"This award is designed to encourage the development of technology that could make a significant impact in our effort to control climate change," Garcia told National Geographic News.

Renewable energy, unlike fossil fuels, does not produce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

Scotland has vowed to reduce its greenhouse gases by 50 percent by 2050 and to run its country on at least 30 percent renewables by 2011, Salmond said.

The country has made inroads: Sixteen percent of its energy already comes from alternative sources.

Even more remote communities, such as Eday Island, part of the Orkney Islands, are 95 percent reliant on homegrown energy.

Costly Endeavor

But Salmond acknowledged that Scotland "lags behind" other European countries in making this new energy boom accessible to its population.

He also pointed out that renewable energy can be costly to jumpstart.

That's why he advocates a "mass deployment" strategy for renewables—for example, installing several wind-energy projects at once will help make such projects viable, he said.

Now is the time to make that technological leap that would usually take a generation and accomplish it in five or ten years, he added.

"By maximizing our own potential we can provide a scientific research boost for the whole of humankind."

More details about the selection process will be provided on November 30, 2008, at an announcement at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland.


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