Page last updated at 01:33 GMT, Wednesday, 14 October 2009 02:33 UK

Scots told 'go green for growth'

Windfarm at Black Law in South Lanarkshire
Scotland's renewable energy sector could create many thousands of jobs

By Hayley Millar
BBC Scotland Business Correspondent

The potential wind and marine energy power in the Pentland Firth has led Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond to dub it the "Saudi Arabia of Renewables".

It's an impressive brag.

The basis for it is the fact that Scotland has more than its fair share of renewable energy resources: a quarter of all European wind energy resource, a quarter of Europe's tidal resource and one 10th of its wave resource.

That potential, coupled with the Scottish government's ambitious targets for green energy could make renewables a lucrative industry for Scotland.

Over the next 10 to 15 years up to 20,000 jobs could be created to develop and build this industry with other technologies, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), having the potential to create thousands more.

'Investment is key'

But can Scotland pull it off and realise a sustainable economic future?

In Fife, Burnt Island Fabrications make turbines for offshore wind farms.

Much of their work is now in other parts of Europe, in countries such as Germany, which is currently opposed to new nuclear generation and pushing ahead quickly with wind generation.

Managing director John Robertson says Scotland has to move faster, if it wants to benefit.

Alex Salmond
Alex Salmond wants Scotland to take the lead in renewable energy

"We need to be very careful that we don't get overtaken here. We have the technology, we have the expertise in the oil and gas sector, and there's a major opportunity. But if we don't invest in infrastrcuture and capitalise on this opportunity, we will be overtaken by overseas competition," said Mr Robertson.

"I believe the competition will come from Germany, Norway and later from the Far East."

Scotland's two big utility firms, Scottish Power and Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE), are both committed to significant renewable energy programmes.

SSE is spending £3bn over five years on projects like the Clyde onshore wind farm near Abington. This has the potential to be the biggest in Europe.

The biggest at the moment is Scottish Power's Whitelee wind farm on Eaglesham Moor. The 140 turbines operating on this site were made by the German company Siemens.

'Race is on'

Scotland needs to invest in its manufacturing capacity to supply not just the UK, but Europe.

During the last two decades, the UK developed a lead in wind power in terms of design and intellectual property. However, a lack of investment saw countries like Denmark overtake the UK. Scotland cannot afford to let the same happen again. But public funding and incentives will be crucial to encourage enthusiasm from the private sector.

Alex Salmond's vision for Scotland is to turn the country into a net exporter of renewable energy, benefitting in a similar way in which the UK has benefitted from North Sea oil.

I believe that there will only be four or five major global competitors and that the first to market will be the winners
Richard Dennis
Doosan Babcock

But all of this renewable energy from wind, tidal and wave resources, must be connected to the electricity grid in order to consume and export it. This infrastructure alone will cost tens of millions of pounds.

Government support is crucial in areas like planning permission and grid connection, because private companies trying to meet their future obligations do not have time to wait to be connected.

If Scotland is to become a major player in "green" energy, then time is of the essence. The race is on to develop these new technologies and create the capacity needed.

In Renfrew, Doosan Babcock have started the world's largest OxyCoal Clean Combustion Test Facility. This is part of the plant's CCS demonstration, which is another area where Scotland hopes it can become a major player, not least because it could potentially store much of Europe's processed carbon in empty oil fields in the North Sea.

The race is on to prove this technology can work on a commercial level.

Richard Dennis, Doosan Babcock's head of research, said: "I think it's vital that the UK wins the race for these technologies. I believe that there will only be four or five major global competitors and that the first to market will be the winners."

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