Page last updated at 14:07 GMT, Friday, 17 October 2008 15:07 UK

'Saudi Arabia' of marine energy

Polo playing in Saudi Arabia
Saudi and foreign riders play polo in Dirab, Saudi Arabia

First Minister Alex Salmond has previously described the Pentland Firth between Caithness and Orkney as the Saudi Arabia of marine power.

Developers have been invited by the Crown Estate, which owns the seabed, to pitch project ideas that would harness the firth's tidal energy.

With Atlantis and Morgan Stanley's separate plan, the region could be on the brink of a boom.

But how do Saudi Arabia, Caithness and the Pentland Firth compare?

SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi Arabia sits on more than 25% of the world's known oil reserves.

It is capable of producing more than 10 million barrels per day, but that figure is reportedly set to increase.

But though it is the world's dominant oil producer and holds the largest hydrocarbon reserves, the country is having to deal with a growing problem of unemployment.

Named after the ruling Al Saud family, which came to power in the 18th Century, the country includes the Hijaz region - the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the cradle of Islam.

Saudi Arabia was established in 1932 by King Abd-al-Aziz - known as the Lion of Najd - who took over Hijaz from the Hashemite family and united the country under his family's rule.

Since his death in 1953, he has been succeeded by various sons.

The country is renowned for its super-rich royals, businessmen and interests in equestrian sports, such as horse racing and polo.

CAITHNESS AND PENTLAND FIRTH

The Pentland Firth lies between the northern mainland and the Orkney isles.

According to the community website, Caithness.org, the stretch of water has a reputation for its fast currents which has wrecked ships for centuries.

Judge at Mey Games
A judge at the Mey Games braves a downpour
The Phoenician explorer Pytheas sailed along the British coast in about 250BC and "mentioned a place called Orca where there were waves of immense size", said the website.

Many of the place names in Caithness can be traced back to the time of the Vikings.

Its coastline plays host to an international surfing competition and is the location of the Dounreay nuclear power research complex.

Now the atomic plant is being decommissioned and its workforce gradually scaled down, Caithness, like Saudi Arabia, is tackling the challenge of unemployment.

Meanwhile, the far north and Saudi Arabia share close associations with royals.

Castle of Mey was a favourite summer retreat of the late Queen Mother.

Her grandson, Prince Charles, has kept the link between the Royal Family and Caithness alive and attends the Mey Games.

In 2005, he launched the North Highland Initiative which aims to promote the economic development of the far north.

One of its spin offs is the Mey Selections brand which features local farm produce.


SEE ALSO
Country profile: Saudi Arabia
01 Oct 08 |  Country profiles
Major tidal power plan revealed
17 Oct 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Green gold rush could boost roads
03 Oct 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Unlocking firth energy 'crucial'
29 Sep 08 |  Highlands and Islands
Project aims to harness sea power
29 Sep 08 |  Highlands and Islands

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