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Saturday, April 05, 2008


In the Herald today:

I have not been a supporter of renewables before but the SNP is to be congratulated for the announcement of a £10m prize for the creation of a successful sea turbine. I may not be persuaded that any "commercially viable" turbine working on renewable power is possible, certainly compared with the low cost of nuclear electricity, but this will encourage cutting-edge engineering companies to set up in Scotland. Also, unlike most government projects, if nobody achieves the target it costs nothing.
Such prizes for technology projects (known as X-Prizes) have not been used often in history but Alex Salmond is right to say that "the history of such innovation prizes shows that they repay their investment many, many times over".

Lindbergh's solo Atlantic flight was as a result of such a prize put up by a French hotelier. The international flight industry was enormously enhanced by that achievement. John Harrison's discovery of a way to measure longitude was a result of a prize put up by the British government. The flight of Spaceship One, which led to the Virgin Galactic project was inspired by a private prize of £5m.

This government has shown more initiative in this one action than its predecessors did in eight years. A bit more progressive thinking like this could not only help make Scotland prosperous but also a world engineering leader again.

We still have to see the details of the competition - mainly will it be awarded purely for achieving a technical specification, rather than by a committee of like minded people, will there be no award if nothing achieves spec - but Alex Salmond clearly understand X-Prizes & what they have done & is promoting it on that basis. I have serious hopes, if this proves popular, that this will be seen as an inspiration both to space & more valuable technical achievements & for other countries or indeed states within countries.

Reader reaction was positive, including from somebody who doesn't generally agree with me.

It is so sad that the Liberal Democrats refused to even contemplate this, as indeed they refused to contemplate going for Irish style growth, back when I tried to get them discussed.

Not only was this, in my view, a betrayal of what liberalism is but at the time they were the 2nd party in Scotland & they could now be where the SNP are.

See also

The only piece of editing was removing what I regard as the very first X-Prize - "Even Archimedes' Eureka moment was inspired by a reward offered by his king."

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