THOUSANDS of jobs could be created across rural Scotland and millions generated for the economy if major new marine energy projects get the go-ahead after passing the Government’s viability tests.
Experts have predicted that a tidal power and wave energy boom is there for the taking during the next twenty years if politicians on both sides of the border seize the initiative.
The think tank Offshore Renewable Energy (ORE) Catapult has concluded that marine energy industries can meet the requirements of the UK Government's "triple test" of cutting greenhouse gas emissions, lowering the current cost to produced electricity and demonstrating that the UK can be a world-leader in a global market.
The group's report said that the tidal stream industry could generate £1.4 billion cumulatively for the UK and support 22,600 jobs by 2040, focused mostly in Scotland, Wales, and the South West of England.
At the same time, wave energy could contribute £4 billion to the UK economy and support 8,100 jobs by 2040.
However, more must be done to develop technologies which remain at the experimental stage, with investment needed to made them viable commercially.
Around 20 tidal power technology developers are currently active in the UK, with functioning turbine now in place or under construction in Scotland in the Pentland Firth and off the coast of Shetland Shetland.
The report warns there is a "very real danger" that the UK could hand over its global lead to other countries as global momentum grows in these countries.
Tidal streams and wave power generators work by extracting the energy contained in the ocean, but in different ways.
Tidal energy is created when tides are squeezed through narrow channels, as in the Pentland Firth. Tidal turbines – essentially much more robust wind turbines – are placed on the sea bed or suspended from floating platforms, and rotate as these powerful currents flow past.
Because tides are predictable, this technology is able to provide electricity in a way which other intermittent renewables, like wind and solar, are not.
Wave energy is more complex – the main challenge being that devices must weather winter storms and still be able to produce power: in Orkney, where they've been tested, winter waves can reach 60ft.
There are many different designs of wave energy converter, from floating buoys to hinged flaps which sit on the sea bed and even floating ‘sea snake’ designs.
Most use the movement of waves to compress liquid and create hydraulic pressure to generate electricity. The global market for marine energy is potentially enormous: wherever there is sea, these devices could be deployed.
Ore said that to benefit from this growth the UK needs to present a clear success story of technology and project development in the UK, where UK companies can develop and showcase their expertise.
Dr Stephen Wyatt, ORE Catapult's research & innovation director, said: "The findings of our research are encouraging, with the potential for significant economic benefits to be realised from the UK marine energy resources.
"We will now continue our work with the tidal stream and wave energy industries, as well as relevant government departments, to discuss these findings and establish the best way forward for future support that will enable the UK to capture such advantage, in terms of growing our economy, creating jobs and exporting goods and services all over the world."
Between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of the economic benefit in and jobs is expected to be generated in coastal areas, many of which are in need economic regeneration.
The study also found that marine energy technologies have the potential to displace natural gas generation on the grid and to reduce CO2 emissions.
Hannah Smith, senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables, said: "This landmark report clearly demonstrates the enormous potential of our wave and tidal energy industries - should they be able to access the right support from Government."
Ms Smith added: "This report shows that with even modest global deployment the sector could rapidly reduce its costs, drive economic growth in rural communities and export around the world.
"We now need government and industry to work together to enable projects to come forward, capture learning from projects and deliver the benefits of wave and tidal technologies."
Sian Wilson, senior energy & infrastructure manager at Crown Estate Scotland, the public body that manages leasing of seabed to support offshore renewables, said: "This new study shows that tidal now also has proven technology and can benefit consumers, communities and the climate, with real potential for new jobs and economic growth."
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “Our renewable energy sector is stronger than ever and marine energy will continue to play an important role as we develop Scotland’s potential for generating clean power.
“Despite damaging policy and support changes from the UK Government, we continue to harness, galvanize and support Scotland’s renewables potential, both in generation and infrastructure.
"Our Scottish Energy Strategy will build on our achievements to date and on Scotland’s capacity for innovation. Renewable energy will play a hugely significant role in powering the future and this strategy will ensure the correct strategic decisions are taken to support the renewables sector as it goes from strength to strength."