SCOTLAND could become the global leader in the fight against climate change by producing ten times as much electricity from renewables as the country needs, Alex Salmond claimed last night.
The First Minister said he wanted Scotland to become a "global advocate" for renewable energy and suggested there was so much potential in this sector that the country could not only become self-sufficient but could also produce enough electricity for the whole of Britain.
Mr Salmond was addressing the National Geographic Society in Washington, the last of three set-piece speeches he has delivered during the promotional Scotland Week events.
The First Minister said: "Scotland has an incredible potential in renewable energy generation. In total, we have the potential to generate as much as 60GW from across the sector – ten times our peak electricity demand.
"We are a small nation but we have no need to think small.
"On renewables, we will think big – reaching out beyond our borders, sharing ideas, expertise and commercial know-how."
Mr Salmond said he wanted Scotland to take on two roles – leading the arguments for renewables and pushing the boundaries of innovation.
To emphasise this point, he announced that the Scottish Government would put up 10 million to fund the world's biggest single prize for innovation in marine energy.
The First Minister said that the Saltire Prize would be awarded to a company developing the best way of translating wave or tidal power into electricity – providing the design was demonstrated in Scotland.
The criteria for the prize will now be worked out by an expert committee, the first members of which will be Terry Garcia, head of global missions at National Geographic, and Professor Anne Glover, Scotland's chief scientific adviser.
There have been other prize funds connected to global warming. Sir Richard Branson has launched the Virgin Earth Challenge for the first person or organisation to come up with a way of "scrubbing" greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere, while the US Congress has created the H Prize on hydrogen technology, and the X Prize Foundation launched a new prize to explore fuel efficiency.
However, this is the first time that an award of this magnitude has been offered for marine renewables.
The First Minister said: "The Saltire Prize is the Scottish Government's way of playing its part in inspiring a revolution in clean, green energy as the world enters a new golden age in innovation prizes."
He added: "Our Saltire Prize is a call to action to scientists around the world to help bring the power of the seas around Scotland – and indeed the United States – online that much sooner."
Patrick Harvie, a Green MSP, said last night that Mr Salmond was right about the potential of renewable energy, but it needed someone more committed to green issues to deliver the strategy that was necessary to achieve results.
He added: "If you wanted someone to talk a good game about the potential while existing technologies are finding it difficult to get planning approval, then Alex Salmond would be the man."