Big data software specialist SAS has launched its first "data scientist of the year" competition for the UK & Ireland.

Open to the academic and business communities, the contest aims to find the country's best candidate who can demonstrate a "breadth of skills in the use of analytics, innovation and data" to "deliver better insight and make a valuable contribution to their community".

The competition is open to undergraduates, postgraduates and business professionals. Entrants will be able to access a defined set of open data sources, available for analysis within the SAS Academic Cloud.

The challenge is to produce "an innovative forecast of energy demand", using open data from the UK government to forecast the number of terawatt hours of electricity likely to be consumed in the UK by 2020.

The judges are looking for written submissions and a video presentation - "the more interesting and more visual the better", said SAS.

The winner will be announced as the SAS UK & Ireland Data Scientist of the Year. They will receive a unique 3D model of their results, a trip to a SAS conference in the US, and an opportunity to present at the UK SAS Professionals Conference in 2015.

"We are looking for data scientists with great ideas and projections, to show us the impact data can have on infrastructure, power usage and the growing use of devices," said Laurie Miles, head of analytics at SAS UK & Ireland, who will be part of the judging panel.

Liam Fox MP, a former cabinet minister and a member of the SAS judging panel, said: "Understanding data trends will provide the UK with unrivalled opportunities to address some of the most critical issues facing our society, whether that's the economy, supporting an ageing population or how to tackle the energy crisis."

Fox said: "The UK is currently faced with a dearth of critical data skills and we need more individuals with the skills to drive this change and create new opportunities. This competition is important not only to identify key talent within data science, but also to force the debate around vital areas like the future of energy."

The competition is now open for entries until 7 October 2014.