A4: Scarcity Zero Cost Estimate

Scarcity Zero is modular by design. Each of its technologies have the capability to connect to one another in any configuration desirable, thus any realistic cost estimate will be determinant on the ultimate nature of configuration. For sake of argument in providing a baseline figure, this model will make several assumptions about the scale and nature of implementation, cognizant of the implementation strategy for public resources and proposed legal and social mechanisms we reviewed earlier in the Appendix. Due to the nature of the assumptions required to make such an estimate, this model will be more generalized in approach as opposed to seeking exact estimates that could shift based on future circumstances, but we’ll try to be as reliable as possible based on the factual data at hand, and seek further to overestimate than come up short.

Further, as electricity generation in most contexts is denoted in kilowatt-hours, we will use the kilowatt / kilowatt-hour unit respectively for power and energy generating capacity in this estimate. Proceeding forward, this estimate is broken into two distinct areas: electricity generation and resource production, which we’ll cover in that order.


The United States currently consumes 4.17 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually as of 2018 (4,171 terawatt-hours).[1] The initial goal of Scarcity Zero is to provide 300% of our national electricity consumption, which would be roughly 12.5 trillion kilowatt-hours (12,500 terawatt-hours).

If we were to leave our current capacity intact (and gradually phase out old power systems, starting with the oldest and dirtiest first), Scarcity Zero would initially need to generate 8.34 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity. This figure can and should scale over time, but it functions as a sufficient target for now.

Further, this estimate will also include the necessary infrastructure to produce sufficient fuel, water and food to provide for our respective needs, as well as desalinate sufficient water to store sufficient energy in the National Aqueduct to comprise its battery and power-generating functions. These estimates will be assessed as a separate consideration on top of electricity generation within the resource production section.

Lastly, while this estimate will make assumptions about the nature of Scarcity Zero’s implementation, it’s important to note that we will be minimizing assumptions of future cost reductions as investment in Scarcity Zero’s technologies expands. This price estimate, consequently, will be based on the estimated price today in “overnight costs” – the cost of the construction if it were purchased and completed as a standalone unit. It will not assess cost reductions over time through improvements in manufacturing, lowered energy costs, subsidies or levelized costs – costs incurred and offset by revenue earned over the lifetime of an energy-generating asset.

This latter consideration is especially important, as levelized costs assume cost-mitigating factors such as energy sales in a commercial market, future subsidies, and, especially in the case of renewables, the application costs of continuous operation (of which renewables, especially solar, have less of than power sources that require fuel and active maintenance of moving parts). A $100,000 solar array, for instance, might cost $100,000 to buy and implement, but when considering the benefit of its generated energy that doesn’t need to be purchased, lack of maintenance, etc., the levelized cost of that array may be far less over its lifetime. It’s not so much of an accounting “trick” as it is a view of long-term accounting, but its functional result is to put cost figures in perspective, and, ultimately make them appear less than they would be if we were only considering the retail sales cost of the technology. This estimate will forgo levelized cost estimates and simply look to the “sticker price” of a technology as it exists today, and it will do so based on three reasons:

  1. The goal of Scarcity Zero is to make energy and resources as inexpensive as possible – its 2 cents per kilowatt-hour target is roughly 85% lower than the commercial price of energy today, so levelized costs as assessed today would not be viable with such a dramatic reduction in energy costs.
  2. Levelized cost estimates use myriad factors and assumptions ranging from the average commercial price of energy, subsidies and tax incentives, cost of labor, cost of materials and estimated operational lifetime – all of which vary wildly by region. Levelized costs, therefore, include several moving parts and are difficult and complex to assess on a nationwide scale. Further, they don’t incorporate the possibility of new technologies (the levelized cost of solar, for instance, doesn’t incorporate municipal integration. The levelized cost of nuclear, further, is based on light-water reactors, and doesn’t incorporate the emergence of new technologies such as thorium).
  3. Levelized costs, finally, are assessed to show how much a technology costs over time, which spreads the cost of energy over that time period. This estimate seeks to focus on what it would cost to implement Scarcity Zero today – “sticker shock” and all – because it is the investment in the technologies, themselves, and their accompanying infrastructure that solves resource scarcity and climate change. The focus isn’t on a capital investment that seeks a capital return (although it will ultimately do so), the focus, rather, is on a capital investment that seeks a social return – we get a future that’s not dominated by resource conflict, ecological collapse and all of the humanitarian and environmental crises they spawn. This factor, along with the others aforementioned, make levelized costs less appropriate for inclusion in this estimate.

With this clarified, we’ll proceed from here to review Scarcity Zero’s cost estimate in full. As the ultimate appropriateness of each of the energy-generating technologies will vary based on geographical region, proximity to coastlines, highways and cities, we will break this estimate down in terms of units of 100 billion kilowatt-hours generated per year, roughly 1/85th of Scarcity Zero’s foundational target.

We will refer to this 100 billion kilowatt-hour figure as an “Energy Unit,” which broken down on a daily basis, comprises 273.97 million kilowatt-hours generated per-day over a 365-day year.
With this established, we’ll start our analysis with renewables.

Integrated Renewables

The key strategy of renewables within Scarcity Zero is municipal integration, as it avoids the highly expensive requirement of large-scale land purchases, especially in urban environments (where land is most scarce and most expensive). Most renewable advocates ignore this cost factor when making estimates, which while normally disingenuous is less of a concern for our purposes here. That makes baseline renewable estimates valid for use in this context.

Solar Power: According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory,[2] the benchmark cost of commercial solar implementation can be as low as $1.44 per watt for a fixed-tilt utility-scale system exceeding 2 megawatts in size (alternating current). Because we are seeking implementation in municipal infrastructure and not buying land, we will assume this figure for benchmark cost estimates. In doing so, we’ll also be referring to our prior assumptions on made on page 50:

  • An average of five peak sun hours per day in the U.S.
  • One square foot of solar generates 18.7 watts under peak sun. That’s 18.7 watt-hours per hour, 82.9 watt-hours per day, and 30 kilowatt-hours every year.
  • One square meter of solar generates 201.28 watts under peak sun. That’s 201.28 watt-hours per hour, 1,006.4 watt-hours per day, and 367.3 kilowatt-hours every year.
  • At $1.44 per watt, one square foot of solar panels would cost $26.93. One square meter would cost $289.84.

A 100 billion kilowatt-hours per year Energy Unit translates to 273.97 million kilowatt-hours per day, or 273.97 billion watt-hours. Divided by 82.9 watt-hours per square foot of solar panel surface, and that comes to 3.3 billion square feet of solar panels (118.5 square miles / 306.91 square km). At a cost of $26.93 per square foot, that translates to $88.87 billion.

Total cost: $88.87 billion per 100 billion kilowatt-hour Energy Unit.

Wind Power: The nominal, non-levelized cost of wind power in the United States is estimated to be between $750-$950 per kilowatt of power-generating capacity, with a non-levelized cost of 7 cents per kilowatt-hour generated.[3] This figure, ostensibly, excludes the cost of land purchase, wiring and grid connection, which would be significant externalities on top of equipment purchase. While this estimate places greater emphasis on the promise of solar power within renewables (due to myriad factors ranging from limited locational deployment, unique impact on migratory wildlife, potential fire risks and damage during storms), its promise is nonetheless substantial in certain instances – all the more so if looked to as a supplemental energy source that’s connected to the National Aqueduct or integrated within highway medians.

Assuming a figure reflecting the average cost of implementation (splitting the difference to arrive at $850 per kilowatt of power-generating capacity), we’ll make the following assumptions when coming to a cost basis for wind power.

  • Capacity factor is the actual output of a power source over a period of time as a proportion of the turbine’s maximum capacity. For example: if a 1-megawatt turbine generates power at an average of 0.3 megawatts, its capacity factor is 30%. According to the Energy Information Administration, the average capacity factor for wind is approximately 34.6% for 2018.[4]
  • To derive a 100 billion kilowatt-hour annual Energy Unit, we would need to generate 273.97 million kilowatt-hours per day.

Assuming the EIA’s average capacity factor of 34.6% for wind turbines, we would need a daily energy-generating capacity of 790 million kilowatt-hours. Broken down over a 24-hour day, that’s a power generating capacity of 32.91 million kilowatts per-hour.

At a cost of $850 per kilowatt generating capacity, that would cost $27.97 billion per 100 billion kilowatt-hour Energy Unit.

Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors

According to Robert Hargraves, author of Thorium, Energy Cheaper than Coal and a foremost expert on thorium energy, the cost of a 100-megawatt reactor is estimated to run $200 million.[5] This figure assesses end-unit manufacturing cost, pre-learning ratio (reductions in manufacturing costs every time the number of manufactured units doubles, due to process improvements, gleaned expertise, etc.). Naturally, this figure would differ in actual implementation as reactor cost would hinge on myriad factors: scalable generating capacity, non-included cost reductions in mass-manufacturing, regulatory requirements and ultimate funding sources, but it’s an empirical baseline figure to begin our cost assessment.

Although LFTRs are more efficient than traditional nuclear reactors, we won’t assess a higher operating capacity than the 92.5% of traditional nuclear power,[6] and include that figure for our estimations here. That would mean a 100-megawatt LFTR would generate 92,500 kilowatt-hours per hour (92.5 megawatt-hours). That translates to 2.22 million kilowatt-hours generated per day (810.3 million kilowatt-hours per year).

Sticking to our daily figure for sake of consistency, generating 273.97 million kilowatt hours per day would require 124 LFTRs. At a cost of $200 million per 100-megawatt reactor, that would come to a total of $24.68 billion per 100 billion kilowatt-hour Energy Unit.

The National Aqueduct

The National Aqueduct's electricity generation is comprised of three functions: internal turbines within pipelines, solar panels on top of pipeline arrays and hot water inside pipelines that itself has high potential for generating thermoelectric energy. As this system does not currently exist (outside of Lucid Energy’s pipelines that, to date, do not have publicly released pricing models and do not come with integrated solar or thermoelectric functions), we'll refer to currently existing systems as starting points to derive cost estimates.

In doing so, we'll assume that the non-solarized aspects of the pipeline would cost similar to the largest oil pipelines today. According to the Oil and Gas Journal, oil pipelines cost an average of $6.5 million per mile to construct.[7]

This cost basis is broken down into four categories:

  • Material - $894,139/mile. (13.62%)
  • Labor - $2,781,619/mile. (42.36%)
  • Miscellaneous - $2,547,600/mile.* (38.79%)
  • ROW (Right of Way) and damages - $343,850/mile. (5.24%)

*'Miscellaneous' is defined as "Surveying, engineering, supervision, administration and overhead, regulatory filing fees, allowances for funds used during construction," which we'll presume includes land purchases alongside right-of-way (ROW) expenses.
With these costs in mind, we'll be making a few assumptions, mindful of the fact that National Aqueduct pipelines would be factory prefabricated, land wouldn't need to be purchased (as pipelines would be installed on publicly owned roads or under high voltage power lines) and regulatory approval would be streamlined. Cognizant of this, we will assume:

  • That materials for the National Aqueduct will cost four times higher than for oil pipelines, as pipelines would include in-pipeline turbines + thermoelectric generators. That translates to an estimated $3.57 million/mile for material costs. This figure does not include the cost of solar panels.
  • That labor for the National Aqueduct will cost half of oil pipelines as all aspects of the system would be factory prefabricated, coming to an estimated $1.39 million/mile.
  • That miscellaneous costs would be half that of oil pipelines for the reasons listed above, coming to $1.2 million/mile.
  • That Right of Way/Damages would not be present as well as the government wouldn't need to make right-of-way costs and factory prefabrication would dramatically reduce the number of damaged units compared to ad-hoc construction.

Combined, this provides an assumed cost estimate of $6.16 million/mile to construct National Aqueduct pipelines before solar panels are added (the cost of which was assessed above as $26.93 / square foot, or $289.84 per square meter).

With that established, let's determine how many miles of pipeline arrays we would conceptually require.

The U.S. consumes a total of 2,842 cubic meters of water per-person, per year, coming to 243.25 trillion gallons (920.8 billion cubic meters) across a society of 324 million people.[8] On a per-day basis, that comes to 667 billion gallons (2.53 billion cubic meters).
For initial deployment we will estimate that the National Aqueduct will store slightly less than one half of that daily volume of water (300 billion gallons – 1.135 billion cubic meters) at any given moment in time. 180 billion gallons (60%) would be stored in pipeline arrays, with the rest in storage tanks (681.36 billion cubic meters). The system would be constantly resupplied thereafter through coastal Energy Plants.
Based on these figures, we'll start our assessment first with cost, and then shift focus to calculating output.

Cost of Pipelines:

The volume of a 24" pipe is 23.5 gallons for every one foot of pipe, which translates to 124,080 gallons for every mile of pipeline[9] or 1.11 million gallons for an array of nine. (2,626 cubic meters per kilometer). If 180 billion gallons are stored in pipelines, that would require us to have 161,186 miles (259,404 km) of pipelines. (Assembled in arrays of six, that figure would drop to 26,864 miles (43,233 km)).

As each pipeline is estimated to run $6.16 million per mile, that span would cost $996 billion.

Cost of Storage:

Current estimates for commercial water tanks today come to around $1 per gallon[10] ($264.17 per cubic meter). However, National Aqueduct water storage tanks would differ from commercial storage tanks today in terms of insulation and electric UV sterilization, so we’ll assess a 40% higher end-unit cost. This would come to roughly $1.40 per gallon ($369.84 per cubic meter).

As 60% of the 300 billion gallons within the National Aqueduct would be within pipeline arrays, the remaining water placed in storage would be 120 billion gallons (454.25 million cubic meters). At $1.40 per gallon, that comes to $168 billion.


As the National Aqueduct does not conceptually exist outside of this writing, effectively determining what it would cost to build the control component is prohibitively difficult. As such, we'll assume the cost of the control system and infrastructure would be $30 billion.

This would leave a non-solarized subtotal cost of $1.194 trillion.

With that established, we'll shift towards potential electricity generation.

Electricity due to internal water flow: according to Lucid Energy, a 24" pipe generates 18 kilowatts of power per-turbine with a flow rate of 24 million gallons per day[11] (90,849 cubic meters). Assuming a constant flow rate, over a 24-hour day, that comes to 423 kilowatt-hours generated per-turbine, per-day.

Lucid Energy’s data suggests that maximum hydroelectric efficiency is turbine placement every 14 feet.[12] Over a pipeline span of 161,186 miles (259,404 km), that would involve use of 60.79 million turbines. At 423 kilowatt-hours generated per-turbine, per-day, with a 24 million gallon per day flow (90,849 cubic meters), this would come to 2.57 billion kilowatt-hours generated per day, or 938.5 billion kilowatt-hours generated per year. It’s notable that the ultimate flow of the National Aqueduct would be significantly higher than 24 million gallons per day across the entire system, but we’ll use this lower figure as a relative benchmark for electricity generation.

Electricity due to pipeline-mounted solar panels: We assessed earlier that solar panels generate 82.9 watt-hours per day, per square foot, at a cost of $26.93 per square foot (1,006.4 watt-hours per day, per square meter, at a cost of $289.84 per square meter). If pipelines were deployed in arrays of six (three on top of three), each 24” pipeline, assuming even spacing of about a foot and a half, would comprise 10 feet (3 meters).

10 feet, by a span distance of 26,864 miles, comes to a surface area of 1.418 billion square feet (131.73 million square meters). At 82.9 watt-hours per day, this would generate 117.6 million kilowatt-hours per day, or 42.92 billion kilowatt-hours per year, at an additional cost of cost of $38.2 billion.

Electricity due to hot water inside pipelines: To assess the potential energy in the hot water inside pipeline arrays and storage tanks, we'll base our calculations on the following assumptions: that the 300 billion gallons (1.135 billion cubic meters) stored in the National Aqueduct would be heated to 200 °F (94 °C ), with a national average outside temperature of 55.7 °F (13.16 °C).[13]

According to Marlow Engineering, a leader in thermoelectric generating products for placement over hot pipelines, their 12” Powerstrap Generator outputs approximately 3 watts of power with a temperature differential of 94 °C to 13 °C.[14] Their 24” model does not have output figures available, but as their 12” model is roughly twice as powerful as their 6” model, we will assume their 24” model outputs roughly 6 watts of power at any given moment in time. As this system would operate 24 hours per day, we will assume each thermoelectric generator would output 144 watts per day, or 52.56 kilowatt-hours per year. Assuming further that we placed such thermoelectric generators in arrays of three (the maximum such units can operate in parallel),[15] each array would come to 432 watts per day, or 157.68 kilowatt-hours per year.

If these arrays of three were placed in between hydroelectric turbines (every 14 feet), we would employ the same number of thermoelectric arrays as hydroelectric turbines (60.79 million). This would translate to an output of 26.26 million kilowatt-hours per day, or 9.59 billion kilowatt-hours per year.

National Aqueduct Subtotals:

  • Cost of system: $1.232 trillion (including solar).
  • Total electricity output: 991 billion kilowatt-hours per year (2.715 billion kilowatt-hours per day).

Energy Unit Breakdown

Based on the analysis and assumptions above, the electricity totals for Scarcity Zero are as follows. (One Energy Unit equals 100 billion kilowatt-hours generated annually).

  • Integrated solar: $88.87 billion per Energy Unit
  • Integrated wind: $27.87 billion per Energy Unit
  • Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors: $24.68 billion per Energy Unit
  • The National Aqueduct: $1.232 trillion, with annual energy generation output of 991 billion kilowatt-hours

Electricity Breakdown

In order to generate 8.34 trillion kilowatt-hours annually, we will make the following cost and deployment breakdown of Scarcity Zero’s technologies. As mentioned previously, Scarcity Zero is modular by design, and can comprise most any configuration desirable. In this estimate, we will assume a total implementation of the National Aqueduct, which at 991 billion kilowatt-hours annually generated, leaves a remaining total of 7.35 trillion kilowatt-hours.
Of this remainder, half (3.68 trillion kilowatt-hours) would be provided by a backbone of LFTRs. The other half (3.68 trillion kilowatt-hours) would be comprised of solar (70% - 2.575 trillion kilowatt-hours) and wind (30% - 1.1 trillion kilowatt-hours).

Here’s what that cost structure looks like:

Technology Energy Units Energy Unit Cost Annual Output Total Cost
National Aqueduct N/A N/A 991 billion kilowatt-hours $1.232 trillion
LFTRs 36.8 $24.68 billion 3.68 trillion kilowatt-hours $908.25 billion
Integrated Solar 25.75 $88.87 billion 2.575 trillion kilowatt-hours $2.288.4 trillion
Integrated wind 11.03 $27.97 billion 1.103 trillion kilowatt-hours $308.5 billion

Total Electricity Generation: 8.34 trillion kilowatt-hours

Total Electricity Infrastructure Cost: $4.74 trillion

Resource Production

After covering electricity generation and the cost of electricity-generating systems, we'll shift gears to the systems that synthesize water and fuel. In doing so, we won't be estimating their implementation in greater Energy Plants (which would be an ideal approach). This is because cost figures for cogenerative Energy Plants are not yet present. Instead, we’ll estimate the cost of building these systems on a standalone basis (with the exception of water desalination facilities without internal power plants) – even though this would translate to higher costs in this estimate.

As commercial resources, food and materials are not included in this estimate as the technical bar for implementation is far lower with Scarcity Zero’s infrastructure in place. Additionally, their cost depends wholly on scale and sophistication, respectively, of the agricultural setup and material being produced.

Seawater Desalination

Most modern desalination facilities today are in the Middle East. Although they are capable of desalinating immense volumes of seawater, they generally are paired with internal power plants. This makes their construction significantly more expensive than desalination facilities would be within Energy Plants and makes it a bit tougher to determine standalone costs by themselves.

As the backbone of Scarcity Zero’s desalination efforts is comprised of LFTRs, desalination facilities wouldn't need their own external power infrastructure in this model – nor would they need to consume as much additional energy. The non-radioactive heat exchangers of LFTRs should easily present sufficient cogenerative energy to desalinate seawater on a large scale, with low requirements for additional energy. Because of this, desalination plants will cost far less in the Scarcity Zero framework than they do today. However, we’ll still need to make a few more assumptions to come to a realistic cost estimate. In doing so, we’ll look to some of the larger desalination facilities operating today:

  • The largest desalination facility in the world is currently the Ras Al Khair Desalination Plant in Saudi Arabia.[16] It has the capacity to produce 270.8 million gallons of water per day (1.025 million cubic meters) via both multistage flash and reverse osmosis. That translates to 98.8 billion gallons of water per year (375 million cubic meters).[17] It cost $7.2 billion to construct, and is also a 2,400 megawatt power plant.[18]
  • The Jebel Ali facility in the United Arab Emirates outputs 140 million gallons of water per day via multistage flash distillation (530,000 cubic meters).[19] That translates to 51.1 billion gallons a year (193.4 million cubic meters). The facility cost $2.72 billion to construct, and is also a 1,400 megawatt power station.[20]
  • The Fujairah power and desalination plant in the United Arab Emirates cost $1.2 billion to construct. It generates 656 megawatts of power and outputs 100 million gallons of water per day (378,500 cubic meters). Over a year, that comes to 36.5 billion gallons a year (138.17 million cubic meters).[21]

As noted above, an important component to using these facilities to create a cost estimate is the presence of power generation. The Fujairah facility only cost $1.2 billion to construct whereas Ras Al Khair cost $7.2 billion – but Ras Al Khair has a 2,400-megawatt generator that powers the facility and Fujairah's power plant only outputs 656 megawatts. The power generating potential of Ras Al Khair is nearly four times higher, but in terms of seawater desalination (270 million gallons daily versus 100 million), its output is only 2.7 times higher. As Scarcity Zero's desalination facilities would come paired with LFTRs, our cost estimate must separate out the cost of traditional power generation.

To do so, we'll head over to the Energy Information Administration to get a general idea of the construction costs of a power plant.[22]

According to the EIA, a Natural Gas-fired Combined Cycle power plant (Adv Gas/Oil Comb Cycle CC) has an overnight cost of $1,080 per kilowatt for a 429 megawatt variant.[23] That means a 429 megawatt power plant would cost $463.2 million to construct, or roughly $1.08 million per megawatt.[24]

While construction costs likely vary in the Middle East, we'll nonetheless stick to this cost figure in the absence of more reliably specific data. Additionally, as the Ras Al Khair facility is both multistage flash and reverse osmosis (disproportionally increasing its cost), whereas Jebel Ali and Fujairah are strictly multistage flash, we'll only use Jebel Ali and Fujairah to estimate what a standalone desalination facility would cost if it didn't include a power plant.

Jebel Ali: $2.72 billion to construct with a 1,400-megawatt power station. Annual output: 51.1 billion gallons (193.4 million cubic meters).

At $1.08 million per megawatt, we'll estimate that $1.51 billion of the construction cost was for power generation. This would bring the estimated construction cost, sans-power, to $1.2 billion.

Desalination costs for one year of output: $0.023 per gallon / $6.20 per cubic meter.

Fujairah facility: $1.2 billion to construct with a 656-megawatt power station. Annual output: 36.5 billion gallons (138.17 million cubic meters)

At $1.08 million per megawatt, we'll estimate that $709 million of the construction cost was for power generation. This would bring the estimated construction cost, sans-power, to $493 million.

Desalination costs for one year of output: $0.013 per gallon / $3.67 per cubic meter.

Averaging these together, that comes to $0.018 to desalinate a gallon of water and $4.94 for a cubic meter.

We determined earlier that as the U.S. consumes 239.5 trillion gallons per year (920.8 billion cubic meters), which translates to 667 billion gallons of water per day. The National Aqueduct is intended to hold slightly less than half of that figure at any given moment in time (300 billion gallons), with 180 billion gallons (60%) in pipeline arrays, and the rest (40%) in storage tanks.

To ensure maximum effectiveness, we will assume an implementation capability sufficient to refill the National Aqueduct’s capacity in full, twice over (600 billion gallons). At a price of 1.8 cents per gallon, constructing facilities with a capacity to desalinate 600 billion gallons of seawater would come to an estimated cost of $10.8 billion.

Hydrogen production

Analysts from the Department of Energy[25] estimate that hydrogen can be produced (factory gate price ) by way of water electrolysis for $3 per kilogram of contained hydrogen, at an energy price of $0.045 (4.5 cents) per kilowatt-hour.

As hydrogen's role in the Scarcity Zero framework is to produce fuel, we'll look at our domestic gasoline usage as a metric as opposed to overall petroleum consumption (which would still be helpful for lubricants and other synthetic materials). According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. consumed 142.86 billion gallons of gasoline in 2018.[27] Although this model envisions the majority of cars migrating to electric due to Scarcity Zero's material advancements, we'll still assess the cost of what it would take to have hydrogen replace gasoline in our society in terms of production.

As hydrogen production via electrolysis is measured in kilograms, we'll use specific energy to calculate our comparison.

Gasoline has a specific energy of 46.4 megajoules per kilogram.[28] One gallon of gasoline has a mass of roughly 2.8 kilograms. As such, 140.43 billion gallons of gasoline would have a mass of 393.2 billion kilograms. At 46.4 megajoules per kilogram, that comes to 8.47 billion megajoules.

Compressed hydrogen has a specific energy of 142 megajoules per kilogram.[29] To produce 8.47 billion megajoules of energy through hydrogen, we'd need 57.6 million kilograms of compressed hydrogen on an annual basis.

According to the Department of Energy, a hydrogen production facility today with an output of 50,000 kilograms of compressed hydrogen per day has a cost of $900 per kilowatt of system energy with a multiplier factor cost of 1.12 for installation, coming to $1,008 per kilowatt of system energy.[30] A 50,000 kilogram per day plant has a system energy of 113,125 kilowatts, which would make its estimated capital cost $114 million.

Dividing $114 million by 50,000 kilograms daily output, we'll assess that the capital costs of a hydrogen production plant are $2,280 per kilogram of daily production capability. As the United States would need 57.6 million kilograms of compressed hydrogen to replace gasoline in our society, at $2,280 per kilogram of daily production capacity, that comes to $131.33 billion.

Cost of Labor

Although labor cost was already included in the National Aqueduct’s price estimate of $1.232 trillion, there are significant considerations that need to be given to the labor forces inherent to Scarcity Zero’s implementation. These occur not only in terms of raw cost, but also the long-term management and upgrades as part of a long-term shift towards an advanced energy economy. In one vein of thinking, it would be of course possible to utilize the ranks of our uniformed service members and leverage their manpower and logistical expertise to build systems that actually present an effective defense against the underlying causes of conflict. Another vein of thinking would bear mention to the need to train larger segments of our workforce towards an advanced-manufacturing economy, which generates tangible wealth far more than service-based occupations. Another still might leverage the technically literate graduates of universities and vocational schools as a primary option.

All of these approaches are valid, and each present unique options across the wide spectrum of vocational opportunities made possible by an investment in Scarcity Zero and the upgrades it installs on our economic foundations. As touched on within the Collective Capitalism section of this Appendix, an investment in such technologies on the scale proposed will create a tremendous demand for jobs across nearly every economic sector we have, which further does the same for all of the educational, support and sub-supporting positions that increase a collective quality of life for all of the above.

Rather than estimate the nuanced specifics of how much this labor would cost (as nearly all of it would hinge on assumptions), we’ll instead take a more general approach and estimate labor costs as a percentage of the total framework. Recognizing that labor costs are already included within the “overnight costs” of each of the systems described herein, we’ll estimate that the residual labor costs for all aspects of installation and management for the initial scale of implementation will come to 30% of the total estimated $5 trillion “overnight” price tag for Scarcity Zero. This comes to a total estimated labor cost of $1.5 trillion.


Electricity generation and National Aqueduct $4.74 trillion for systems that annually generate 8.34 trillion kilowatt-hours.
Cost of seawater desalination: $10.8 billion
Cost of hydrogen production $131.33 billion
Cost overrun buffer (5%) $250 billion
Estimated costs of labor $1.5 trillion

Grand Total: $6.63 trillion

Why this cost estimate is high

As this estimate hinged on several assumptions, care was taken to minimize any assumed reductions in future costs that would almost certainly be present once Scarcity Zero was implemented. The cost of any system at scale always costs less than the overnight cost, all the more so with systems implemented on a massive scale. There are several additional factors that would drive costs down even lower.

Learning Ratio: As we saw within Chapter 4 (and elsewhere in this writing) learning ratio is the applied concept of 'learning by doing,' which means price reductions come through learned efficiencies and experience by building systems. The 'ratio' aspect of it is the reduction in price every time the number of produced units doubles. If it's a 10% ratio after the 100th produced unit, unit number 200 would cost 10% less than unit number 100. Unit number 400 would cost 10% less than unit number 200, and 20% less than unit number 100, and so on. If you recall back to the original invention of computers, flat screen televisions, smartphones, etc., the models we see today are vastly superior and less expensive than the initial releases they evolved from. Energy technologies are no different.

Further, learning ratio applies especially in the case of Scarcity Zero’s because most of the framework’s technologies are in their technical infancy and stand to enjoy substantial improvements through greater investment and research. Their overnight cost may be $5 trillion today, but over time – and especially with purchase orders on scale – that figure will drop as it has in every other industry without exception. Yet as it's prohibitively difficult to accurately assess what these reductions might look like in actuality, they were not incorporated in the pricing estimate. However, in reality they would be significant.

Energy Plants: Energy Plants are the envisioned approach for large-scale implementation of Scarcity Zero's power, hydrogen fuel and fresh water resources because they can operate in a cogenerating capacity. As they can use the waste/excess energy from one facility to power the functions of another in the same physical footprint, the energy costs to perform functions like water desalination and hydrogen production drop drastically. Just as importantly, the capital expenses of constructing power plants incorporates the cost of buying land. By building multiple systems within the same facility, the cost of land is proportionally shared – as are the costs of construction. This would make Energy Plants less expensive than the estimated costs to build each system standalone.

Energy cost reductions: Scarcity Zero's primary purpose is to generate an effectively unlimited amount of energy at a low enough cost to make possible the large-scale synthesis of critical resources and address climate change. Yet while this is intended to solve the core, pressing problems of our civilization, it also makes it a lot less expensive to do business and manufacture things. Energy costs are a huge component of a company's bottom line, especially in manufacturing – figures we assessed earlier to be hundreds of billions in aggregate.

If we're able to reach Scarcity Zero's target of 2 cents per kilowatt hour, that's hundreds of billions of dollars that businesses save when building products they take to market – systems behind Scarcity Zero being no exception. That's billions of dollars that longer need to be incorporated in the per-unit delivery cost of energy and resource production systems, which in turn presents billions of dollars in cost savings to their large-scale purchase and implementation.

Direct energy sales: even at drastically reduced rates of 2 cents per kilowatt-hour, the sale of 8.34 trillion kilowatt-hours returns a tidy sum – some $168.8 billion annually, 1.68 trillion per decade. Over time, this can and will offset the costs of Scarcity Zero’s infrastructure. In conjunction with foreign sales through The Public Interest Company, this could reach a faster point of profitability as global adoption expands.

Reduced social afflictions: Scarcity Zero is designed to solve resource scarcity and climate change so that unlimited energy and resources in turn can solve the myriad social afflictions fueled by resource scarcity. These afflictions consume immense funds, time and concentration from our society: poverty, crime, economic depression, failing infrastructure, lost hope, lackluster employment and rampant drug addiction among them. All of these problems consume huge percentages of public budgets. As dramatically reduced energy and resource costs address these afflictions, the resources we presently devote to their mitigation can be spared in kind – saving even more money.

With the presence of these cost reductions in practice it is highly likely that the present cost estimate for Scarcity Zero's implementation is skewed significantly higher, thus any cost savings we can obtain along the way, should this model be implemented, would simply be "gravy" on top and allow us to increase any scale of implementation in kind.