A4: Scarcity Zero Cost Estimate

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