Nuclear relic Dounreay on the shores of the Pentland Firth
The Crown Estate has outlined the process and timetable for granting approval for wave and tidal energy projects in the Pentland Firth.
It owns almost all the seabed around the UK out to a 12 mile limit.
The firth is the first UK marine site to be opened up for commercial scale development.
Rob Hastings, director of the marine estate at the Crown Estate, said unlocking the area's potential was "crucial" to Scotland.
He said it would help the Scottish Government meet renewable energy targets, stimulate the north Scotland economy and boost the renewables industry.
Mr Hastings added: "The Crown Estate is keen to play a central role in generating confidence in the investor community - the process we are announcing today is an important step towards achieving just that.
"As well as the economic opportunities for energy production here, the area could become a world class centre of excellence in wave and tidal power development, research, testing and environmental monitoring."
The firth has long been identified as a possible green power centre and has previously been a site of energy development.
Dounreay, on its Caithness shoreline, was the site of nuclear power experimentation. The complex is now being decommissioned.
The Crown Estate said the process would take into account the wide range of interests and users of the firth, including international shipping, ferry traffic, fishing, defence, environment and ecology.
All commercial development will be subject to an environmental impact assessment and developers will have to show that their proposed development will not have any significant adverse impact.
It is expected that the first devices to be installed will be full-size demonstration devices.
The process will start with the registration of expressions of interest between mid November and mid December this year.
Application packs will be sent out in January 2009 and will have to be returned by April.
A pre-qualification assessment and site allocation, followed by granting of agreements for a lease, will take place in the summer.
The Crown Estate anticipates the deployment of the first demonstration devices in the firth to take place by 2010 to 2011.