The Saltire Prize – a challenge worth winning

Neil Kermode, Managing Director of EMEC and Deputy Chair of the Saltire Prize Challenge Committee, explains why the Saltire Prize is so significant for the marine renewable energy industry.

The launch of the official Saltire Prize challenge period by the Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon shows yet again the welcome determination by Scotland to make marine renewables a daily reality.

The Saltire Prize challenge is a serious competition. It seeks to force the pace of the development of wave and tidal energy by offering a substantial prize of £10m to the first team to generate 100GWh of electricity from Scottish waters over two years. And 100GWh is a big ask at the moment. That requires a 30MW farm of wave or tidal devices to be installed and run continuously for the two years.

The 4 official Saltire Prize competitors with Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. From left: MeyGen CEO Dan Pearson; Richard Yemm, Director & Founder, Pelamis Wave Power; DFM; Allan Mortimer, Head of Innovation, Scottish Power Renewables; and Aquamarine Power CEO Martin McAdam.

But scepticism has been expressed about whether this is the best way of using £10m of public money. Would it be better to split the money up and use it as grants to help get machines developed? Well, that’s happening too.

But, to my mind, this was answered by Jaison Morgan when he gave the inaugural Saltire Prize lecture in Glasgow in 2010 when he looked at the history of other competitions and ran through some of the inventions we take for granted. The Saltire lecture was a resounding endorsement of the Challenge – a version of the lecture is on the Saltire Prize website.

Of course, in recent years we will remember the highest profile prizes that caught the public imagination – such as the Antari X prize that put someone into space twice in 14 days and is leading to Virgin Galactic’s space tourism business – but I certainly didn’t realise this process went back to the 1500s. I didn’t realise that synthetic chemicals, tinned food, the reaper/binder (which became the combine harvester), accurate time measurement/global positioning, manpowered flight, transatlantic flight and many others were all products of prizes being offered.

But the study of the prizes rapidly shows that it is not the prize itself that is important. It is the spotlight it throws onto the participants that allows them to attract interest and investment for their endeavours. People who have never even thought about the sector take an interest and contribute time, or ideas or money to this endeavour. Some do it because it is exciting, some do it because they are looking to participate.

The challenge IS hard, but it brings back to mind JF Kennedy’s moon programme speech at Rice University in 1962 when he said: ‘We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, ………….’

Scotland realises that doing the ‘easy thing’ of just putting up more gas fired power-stations cannot work in the medium or long term. We are not making any more gas (even though we are finding some more left behind from long ago). We cannot burn our way out of the energy crisis. Economic prosperity and sustainable economies cannot rely upon consumption of a finite resource. Scotland realises its future lies in using and exporting sustainable fuel; wave and tidal energy will play a vital part in that export initiative. The Challenge itself further underlines the determination Scotland is showing to accelerate the pace of development and Government will cannily only pay upon the delivery of results. This is not a grant, it is payment for a job well done.

But it is also more than that. In the case of the Saltire Prize it has attracted the attention of people throughout the world and focused it onto Scotland. From that attention I am sure there will be many steps taken to move marine energy forward ranging from possible Eureka moments in the bath, to small scale embedment of the idea that Scotland welcomes innovators and is determined to try anything to make this mission succeed.

Will this be easily won? Definitely not. This is harder than it looks.

Will it be worth celebrating the achievement? Definitely yes.

Does Scotland welcome ideas? Judge for yourself. Who else has a prize on the table and welcomes all comers…….


(Posted with permission from EMEC

Comments are closed.