ALTERNATIVE ENERGY: usually denotes energy from renewable sources such as the sun or energy from alternatives to “fossil fuel” such as coal, oil, or natural gas


PHOTOVOLTAIC: capable of producing electricity when exposed to radiant energy, especially light. Photovoltaic cells are thus solar energy generating cells


SOLAR ENERGY: energy directly from the rays of the sun

Oliver Headley (5th Jul 1942 - 9th Apr 2002)

Caribbean Icons in STI Vol 1

Professor Oliver Headley advocated the use of alternative energy sources, especially solar energy throughout the Caribbean. In the 1960s, he pioneered solar energy for heating purposes and crop drying. His greatest achievement was the design of the first and largest electrical grid system using solar energy, installed at Harrison’s Cave, Barbados.

Oliver Headley was born on July 5th 1942 in St. Peter, Barbados. He was a curious, creative child who dismantled, rebuilt things, and designed rockets. He attended Harrison’s College and later began studies in physics at the University College of West Indies, Jamaica then switched to chemistry. An avid swimmer and member of the University Water Polo Team, he obtained the Bachelor of Science degree in Special Chemistry. He gained his doctorate in 1967 from the University College London.

He then joined the Chemistry Department, University of the West Indies (UWI), Trinidad, and later became a lecturer in the Faculty of Engineering. He investigated various applications for solar energy and was conferred the title Reader in Solar Energy for his extensive research and publications (over 100 scientific papers) in this field.

In 1992, he was appointed Professor of Chemistry, UWI, Cave Hill and he merged the Departments of Biology and Chemistry to form the Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES).

Headley’s innovations on photovoltaic cells and solar still designs were used throughout the Caribbean and Central America. He devised a power system for the Government Headquarters and Barbados Power and Light Company. His solar cells were used to generate electricity to computers, laboratories, buildings, and icemakers on fishing boats. He built numerous solar dryers for timber, sugarcane, and other produce used in Grenada, Guatemala, Belize, and El Salvador.

He was the Director of the International Solar Energy Society and had interests in tapping thermal energy from the deep ocean. For his tireless work, he received the World Renewable Energy Network Pioneer Award, the UWI Vice Chancellor’s Award and the Barbados Companion of Honour among other awards.

Headley’s students admired his enthusiastic teaching style and sense of humour along with his habit of using his palm as a calculator, He was also a respected elder of his local church. He enjoyed reading, photography, cycling, swimming, and hiking, and sang in his University Choir. He passed away on 9th April 2002.