“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him” – James 1:12

The late Professor the Hon. Oliver St. Clair Headley (1942 -2002) and I conceived a vision for the use of renewable energy in the Caribbean on Whit Monday in 1969.  The occasion – lunch at our house at the St. Augustine Campus, UWI, Trinidad where we were both recently appointed to the faculty, he in Chemistry and I in Biometrics (the “bio” here is agriculture and not medicine).  The challenge – limited irrigation water in the Caribbean for crop production despite an abundance of sea water. The potential solution – solar desalination.

Our discussion at lunch signalled the start of a research and development programme which led to the joint publication of three papers: (1) Oliver St. C. Headley and Springer, B. G. F. (1970) Effects of design and empirically variable parameters on solar still performance. Proceedings of the 3rd International Symposium on Fresh Water from the Sea Vol. 1. Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia. 669-677; (2) Headley, Oliver and Springer, Basil (1971) Distilled Water from Solar Stills. Journal of Chemical Education, Vol. 48; and (3)Headley O. and Springer B. G. F. (1973). A natural convection solar crop dryer. Proceedings of the ISES/UNESCO Solar Energy Conference, “The Sun in the Service of Mankind,” Paris, Paper No. V 26.  We actually registered a company Solar Energy Enterprises Ltd. for the manufacturing of solar energy application devices but the commercialisation of this never materialised, probably because of the competition for our time with our primary responsibilities at the UWI.

I left Oliver in Trinidad in 1974 to return to Barbados with my family. Whereas my interest in solar energy applications remained very much a hobby, Oliver’s interest mushroomed into a lifelong passion which led him to prominence in international solar energy circles as this extract from a World Renewable Energy Network (WREN) obituary reveals: “…He was the founder of the Caribbean Solar Energy Society, and a WREN pioneer.  For his outstanding contribution in solar thermal applications, the use of photovoltaic energy in the Caribbean and his global promotion of environmental issues, Oliver received many national and international awards. He was very actively involved in promoting renewable energy and attended all our congresses and seminars. We will all miss his enthusiasm and friendship…”

Several years after me, Oliver returned to the Cave Hill Campus of the UWI in Barbados, at which time he was well respected internationally for his diligence and success in developing renewable energy applications.  We renewed our interest and just weeks before his death in 2002 a Barbados Photovoltaic Module Assembly Plant Five-Year Business Plan was completed (30 November, 2001) which I commissioned through CBET and which was prepared by 4P Group, Inc. (Atlanta) in cooperation with Professor Oliver Headley, UWI.

This business plan assessed the feasibility of initially establishing and operating a 1-3 MW/year crystalline silicon photovoltaic (PV) module assembly plant in Barbados. This facility would be the PV module supplier to Barbados, the Caribbean region, and select South American countries.

Since Oliver’s passing, I have had discussions on the topic of solar electricity with many persons including: James Husbands, Managing Director, Solar Dynamics Ltd. in Barbados;  Austin Pilgrim, a Barbadian living in Canada who works with a PV plant and who would love to return to Barbados and to be involved in the PV industry; Leo Sobers a returning resident from the UK with a passion for renewable energy; Prof. Mike Scott who is a UK materials specialist with a keen interest in increasing the efficiency of solar energy applications; Dr. Raye Thomas, a solar technology specialist from Canada; Barbados Light & Power and respective Barbados governments.

The current thinking is that modules would be assembled in Barbados (manufacturing company); roofs of residential and commercial buildings would be rented for the placement of modules (solar production company or companies); and that Barbados Light & Power, as the sole distributor of electricity in Barbados, would buy the electricity from the solar production companies for the grid under the watchful eye of the Fair Trading Commission.

When I saw that the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) was hosting a seminar on the importance of renewable energy last Friday, I very much regretted that my schedule did not permit me to be there.  I was most gratified to read in the Barbados Advocate online early last Saturday morning that local businessman Ralph ‘Bizzy’ Williams proposed that the Government and private sector should mount a manufacturing plant to assemble photovoltaic solar panels to boost the electricity supply in this country.
The BCCI, at another retreat on Friday 14 May 2010 to confirm the Revitalisation of Bridgetown Initiative and seek stakeholder support for its development, included in its “Centres of Excellence” concept to develop a new Bridgetown Barbados Brand, a Centre of Excellence for Renewable Energy.
By the way, it has been reported that the level of solar energy incident (insolation) on Barbados in one day, if efficiently collected, is enough to service the power needs of Barbados for an entire year. The path is now clear for the BL&P to buy energy from suppliers of solar energy and we look forward to the advent of the production of “solaricity” – at last.

Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.