A4: Scarcity Zero Cost Estimate

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