Brandon Leavitt’s Time Has Come — Again. by JEFF BALCH
Brandon Leavitt | Chicago
Jeff balch is a freelance writer
who works out of a solar
home he shares with his wife
and two kids. contact him at
brandon leavitt has been harnessing the sun’s energy since 1976. he’s seen the industry, and his career, rise, then almost set, only to rise
leavitt, 57, did not start out in solar. a Chicago native, he spent three years after high school in the music
business. but in 1975, he attended a summer seminar
with noted inventor/futurist r. buckminster fuller, and
his interest in renewable energy was piqued.
“he’s a big part of what got me into this,” leavitt
recalls. “he was all about solving a problem without
creating another one for the next guy.”
leavitt’s own first steps in renewable energy
came in florida in the mid-1970s. While continuing the
informal studies he’d begun under fuller, he worked
with florida companies developing solar hot water collector prototypes.
florida was where the action was, but leavitt always
knew he would come back to Chicago someday. “there
wasn’t much of a market for solar here yet. We had to create one,” he says.
and that’s what he began to do — writing his own
ads, running tests in two leased buildings near the I-94
expressway and opening his business, Solar Service Inc.
( solarserviceinc.com), in 1978. his timing was fortuitous.
that year, the federal government initiated tax credits
supporting solar and other renewable sources.
leavitt’s first customers were his parents. then
he started giving talks at environmental seminars and
schools. he got on radio shows. and by 1985, he had
installed about 300 systems and his business had grossed
l ISa albreCht
$3 million. he went from three employees to 20 and
conducted some 100 seminars a year.
but in 1986, the reagan administration canceled
the federal tax credit for solar energy, and the market
collapsed. leavitt had to discharge his staff and close his
shop. but he soldiered on alone, taking over many other
defunct companies’ contracts and running a solo solar
service business from his home for the next 13 years.
In 1999, the tide turned back in leavitt’s favor when
the Illinois legislature mandated that utility Commonwealth edison provide renewable energy funding. leavitt
ramped up his sales force, leased new warehouse space
and started rebuilding his client base.
Since then, Solar Service has handled more than $20
million in solar installations, both solar thermal and photovoltaic. leavitt’s company is among the largest design/
build solar contractors in the united States, specializing
in large-scale commercial solar thermal systems and residential heat and water-heating systems. the company
also offers dealer training and consulting services and
operates a national wholesale division.
“We’re doing about 100 systems a year again,” says
leavitt, who also serves on the board of directors for
the Illinois Solar energy association, a chapter of the
american Solar energy Society. “residential customers
represent more than half our client base, but commercial
work brings in about two-thirds of the income.”
and that system he installed on his parents’ house
all those years ago? like leavitt, it’s still working. ST
See what SOLAR TODAY readers are
saying at solartoday.org/letters. Join the
conversation and send your own feedback