The Scottish government last week outlined criteria and officially launched the grand Saltire Prize Challenge, a marine energy innovation contest to unleash the region’s massive renewable energy potential.

The $15 million (£10 million) Saltire Prize will be awarded to the team that successfully demonstrates the best commercially viable wave or tidal energy technology in Scottish waters. The technology must achieve a minimum electrical output of 100 GWh over a continuous two-year period using only the power of the sea. If more than one technology meets these minimum criteria, judges—a panel of 11 “international experts”—will consider cost, environmental sustainability, and safety to determine the best overall technology.

Companies interested in competing can register online and consult with contest officials from January to March 2009. Official entries will be accepted in June 2009, and the competition will remain open to entries until June 2013.

The Saltire Prize, which First Minister Alex Salmond said is “one of the biggest international innovation prizes in history,” was first announced in April 2008.

Scotland has long been actively promoting development of marine energy. According to its government, the potential wave and tidal capacity in the waters around Scotland is estimated at 21.5 GW—almost 10 times Scotland’s current installed nuclear capacity, and twice its current total installed power generating capacity. The government also estimates that tidal generation in the Pentland Firth alone—a strait in the North Sea dubbed the “Saudi Arabia of tidal power”—could provide almost 10% of total UK power demand.

Scotland also hosts the publicly funded European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), a unique ocean-based facility for the full-scale testing of wave and tidal energy prototypes. In September this year, Irish company OpenHydro became the world’s first company to deploy a tidal turbine directly onto the seabed at that facility.

“The Saltire Prize has the potential to unlock Scotland’s vast marine energy wealth, putting our nation at the very forefront of the battle against climate change, to make a lasting and decisive difference to our planet,” Salmond said, as he announced the contest’s details in Edinburgh last week.

“The reward for Scotland is to maximise our natural resources and competitive advantage in renewable energy, lead the fight against climate change and reap the full economic benefits that come with the position of a world-leader in renewable energy.”

Sources: The Scottish Government, EMEC