TODAY will be the "dawn of a new era" for Scotland as it takes the lead globally in the emerging field of marine renewable energy, experts have claimed.
• Tidal turbines, similar to this one in Strangford Lough, will be a common sight in the Pentland Firth
A landmark announcement will open up the Pentland Firth off the north coast of Scotland for wave and tidal schemes, attracting billions of pounds of investment. About a dozen companies from all over the world will be given the go ahead to install hundreds of green-energy devices in the stretch of sea, which is famed for its powerful tides.
It is the first area of ocean around the UK to be opened up for marine renewable development, and this is by far the largest round of leasing agreements in the sector anywhere in the world.
First Minister Alex Salmond will today join bosses from the Crown Estate at Our Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh to reveal the winners of a fierce competition for leases on the stretch of water.
The identities of the winning companies have been kept a close secret, however The Scotsman understands large utility firms such as ScottishPower, Scottish and Southern Energy and E.On will be among the winners. Leith wave power firm Pelamis is also touted as being one of about a dozen companies likely to have been successful.
Almost 40 companies applied for leases in a process that began in November 2008.
Niall Stuart, chief executive of Scottish Renewables, said today's announcement would be the "dawn of a whole new era in a new industry that will be grown and based in Scotland but that has potential new markets all over the world".
A spokesman for RenewableUK said: "This is the world's largest round of development by far. It really will put the Pentland Firth on the map. This is such an exciting technology which, within the next ten years, could deliver substantial quantities of energy – and it's happening in Scotland."
Mr Salmond has dubbed the stretch the "Saudi Arabia of marine power".
It is thought the Pentland Firth could generate more than 700 megawatts of renewable power by 2020. That is more than a third of the power provided by all Scotland's existing wind farms.
Applications ranged from ten megawatt demonstration schemes, likely to involve just a handful of devices, to 300 megawatt projects, likely to use hundreds of machines.
Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: "Scotland has hit the energy jackpot twice, first with North Sea oil, which has been in decline since 1999, and now with renewables like wave and tidal."
However, Trudy Morris, chief executive of the Caithness Chamber of Commerce, raised concern over whether enough of the benefits would go to the local area. She expects the majority of winners in the leasing process to be multi-national utility firms rather than smaller Scottish start-up firms.