Simply put, this is a plea for solar energy, but Barry Commoner does not put anything simply. As in The Closing Circle, The Poverty of Power, and Science and Survival, the Washington Univ. professor of environmental science makes the reader work to grasp his main points, some of which are provocative if no longer new, The government has yet to realize, Commoner tells us, that the energy crisis ""is basically an economic issue,"" caused by our reliance on nonrenewable energy sources--oil, coal, gas, uranium--which become progressively more expensive to produce as they are depleted. It is this factor, coupled with U.S. oil companies having decided on 20% profits instead of 15%, which led to soaring oil costs in 1974--OPEC merely followed suit. But encouraging energy conservation by increasing its cost just makes matters worse because every phase of the economy is severely affected. Commoner says that the only solution is to develop renewable energy sources such as solar power--via photovoltaic cells (if the government will follow through on a plan to bring down their cost)--and windmills. (One Minnesota farmer has built an ethyl alcohol plant on his farm.) Unfortunately, the Carter Administration is opting for another renewable energy source, breeder reactors, which produce new fuel as they generate power, but which also produce environmental hazards and plutonium. In an obvious effort to be up-to-the-minute, Three Mile Island is mentioned several times, but while Commoner devotes a large section to Carter's energy message of April 1977, he never mentions his April 1979 message and its meaning. Critics who have found Commoner less persuasive as an economist than as an ecologist won't be assuaged by his arguments here, but his continued surveillance of the energy situation is worthwhile.