Thirty years after he got into the solar business, Bob Chew (Big50 1987) is happy to be back where he started. Only instead of being an early adopter of a technology that relied on federal support, he's a leading player in a sophisticated industry whose future seems assured.

A full-service remodeler for many years with R.W. Chew Co., Chew says his heart was always in renewable energy. But more than 90% of solar manufacturers went under when Ronald Reagan “pulled the plug” on tax incentives in the mid-'80s, he says. Many systems were orphaned.

By 2004, when Chew turned full-time to renewable energy and formed SolarWrights, “a perfect storm” of factors were behind him, he says, including rising energy costs, state incentives, and mounting concern about global warming and Middle Eastern stability. He expects SolarWrights' revenue to top $5 million this year, based on solar and wind turbine installations. The company has offices in five Northeastern states, and will likely have a national presence within two years, Chew says.

SolarWrights advertises little, but Chew gives at least 30 talks a year. Audiences often include builders and remodelers who go on to partner with his company. “I learned so much from remodeling,” he says. “What we do is much easier.”