Solar engineer Steven Robbins claims he can cut customers' utility bills by as much as 70%. His company, Solar Outdoor Lighting (SOL), in Stuart, Fla., which he cofounded two and a half years ago with chief operating officer Alan Hurst, makes solar-powered street lamps, lights for bus shelters and billboards, commercial exterior lighting, and low-wattage electrical systems.

Designed for high reliability and minimal maintenance, the lighting systems rely on computer-guided batteries that tell them when to turn on and off, and can operate for five consecutive days without sun. The SOL street lamp is $2,000, versus $500 to $600 for a traditional one, but is cheaper to install. (Digging a trench and running wires for standard systems can cost $15 a foot.)

SOL's revenues for 1992 were about $1 million, a five-fold increase from 1991. Robbins and Hurst expect the company to reach break-even this year.

-- Alessandra Bianchi