This page covers the cost estimate for Universal Energy as implemented to the criteria specified in Chapter One, centering on its electricity generation and resource production aspects and the estimated expenses therein. Please note that as this estimate requires a degree of speculation and assumption, figures may be slight approximations and may round to the nearest decimal point.
Additionally, please also keep in mind that Universal Energy is modular by design. It can be implemented to any scale, smaller or larger than is suggested here. This approach is a default implementation strategy that can make our nation energy independent and facilitate the synthesis of electricity, fresh water and fuel to large scales. As commercial resources, building materials and food are intended to be provided by the public sector in this model, building off the energy and resource benefits provided by Universal Energy's public resources.
This estimate is broken into three areas: electricity generation, resource production and general notes explaining why this estimate is intentionally higher than it would likely be as proposed here.
The United States currently consumes 3.76 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. The initial goal of Universal Energy is to provide 300% of our electricity consumption, which would be 11.29 trillion kilowatt-hours. If we were to leave our current capacity intact (and gradually phase out old power systems, starting with the dirtiest first), Universal Energy would initially need to generate 7.52 trillion kilowatt-hours of electricity.
The suggested allocation of technologies to generate this electricity heavily favor Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors, as they produce the most energy per dollar by far. However, with the exception of using waste heat to desalinate seawater and produce synthetic hydrogen in Energy Plants, LFTRs are a one-trick pony. They don't deliver water, and they don't help advance our road networks or underwrite a smart, resilient electric grid. For this reason, while LFTRs make up the backbone of the 'electricity target,' substantial investment is made into solar roads and National Aqueduct infrastructure to round out Universal Energy's electricity generating capabilities.
In this example model of implementation, LFTR's comprise 90% of electricity generation, with solar roads and National Aqueduct systems comprising roughly 5% each.
The model's estimated cost breakdown is as follows:
Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors:
According to Robert Hargraves, author of Thorium, Energy Cheaper than Coal and a foremost expert on thorium energy, the pre-learning ratio cost of a 100 megaWatt reactor is estimated to cost $200 million. To account for any efficiency losses, we'll assume LFTRs have an uptime of 80%. That would mean a 100 megawatt LFTR would output 80 megawatt-hours of electricity per hour, 1,920 megawatt-hours per day and 700,800 megawatt-hours per year. Extrapolated into kilowatt-hours, that comes to 700.8 million kilowatt-hours generated annually.
Divided by $200 million, that gives us a power generating ratio of 3.504 kilowatt-hours per dollar. 90% of our electricity target of 7.52 trillion kilowatt-hours is 6.77 trillion kilowatt-hours. At 3.504 kilowatt-hours per dollar, that comes to a total cost of $1.93 trillion to generate 90% of Universal Energy's target.
Estimated total cost for Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors: $1.93 trillion for an annual output of 6.77 trillion kilowatt-hours.
If we recall back from Chapter 3, Solar Roadways panels annually generate 22.2 kilowatt-hours of energy per square foot, at a cost of $114 per square foot. In the case of Wattway by Colas, we determined that the panels annually generated 19.22 kilowatt-hours per square foot, at a cost of $54 per square foot.
If we were to split the difference between these two prototypes, that would come to 20.71 kilowatt-hours generated per square foot, at a cost of $84 per square foot (223 kilowatt-hours generated per square meter, at a cost of $904 per square meter).
This model's price estimate for solar roads is directly relational to the estimated cost of repairing our roads nationwide. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, there are roughly 2.68 million miles of paved road surface in the U.S. According to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association, between 16-26% of paved road surface is in disrepair - with higher degrees of disrepair in urban areas as they experience more vehicle traffic. We'll split the difference and use 21% for our estimate, which would come to 562,380 miles in total. The American Road & Transportation Builders Association further assesses that milling and resurfacing a 4-lane road costs about $1.25 million per mile. Across 562,380 miles, that comes to a total figure of $703 billion dollars that we could use to pay for solar road panels. This model will double that figure, coming to $1.406 trillion to devote to solar road panels.
At an estimated cost of $84 per square foot (splitting Solar Roadways and Wattway), that would buy 16.74 billion square feet of solar road panels that would primarily be deployed in urban environments. At 21.71 kilowatt-hours generated per square foot, that comes to 363 billion kilowatt-hours generated annually.
Estimated total cost of solar road panels: $1.406 trillion, annually generating 363 billion kilowatt-hours.
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 energy that can be extracted through thermoelectric functions. As this system as envisioned is hypothetical and Lucid Energy (the company that makes in-pipeline turbines) does not publicly release pricing models, we'll need to use a currently existing system as a starting point to make a cost estimate.
In doing so, we'll assume that the non-solar 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.
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 as the Public Interest Company would be a public service and wouldn't need to pay additional costs for regulatory approval. Cognizant of this, we'll assume:
- That materials for the National Aqueduct will cost three times higher than for oil pipelines, as pipelines would be modular and include in-pipeline turbines + thermocouples. That translates to $2.68 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 they'll be factory prefabricated, coming to $1.39 million/mile.
- That miscellaneous costs would be 75% lower than oil pipelines for the reasons listed above, coming to $636,900/mile.
- That Right of Way/Damages would reduce 75% as well as the government wouldn't need to make right-of-way costs and factory prefabrication would dramatically reduced damaged units compared to ad-hoc construction. This would come to $85,895/mile.
Combined, this provides an assumed hypothetical cost estimate of $4.8 million/mile to construct National Aqueduct pipelines before solar panels are added.
To estimate the cost of adding solar panels, we'll use Astronergy's 315-watt panel as a starting point for a cost estimate. Their 315 watt panel costs $300 and has a surface area of 20.1 square feet. That comes to roughly 15 watts per square foot at the cost of roughly $15 per square foot. (Note: it may be helpful to review the images surrounding the National Aqueduct to gauge their conceptual implementation.)
As the National Aqueduct pipeline arrays in this example would have an estimated surface depth of 84 inches (estimating each 24" inside diameter pipe is 27" wide, plus spacing), that translates to 7 feet. Across a mile-long length, that's 36,960 square feet (3,433 square meters). Therefore, to cover one mile of nine-pipe National Aqueduct arrays with solar panels, at $15 per square foot, it would cost $554,400.
All combined, this brings us to an assumed estimate of $5.34 million per mile to construct National Aqueduct pipeline arrays.
With that established, let's determine how many miles of pipeline arrays we need.
- For initial deployment the National Aqueduct is proposed to be capable of providing up to 20% of our national annual water consumption.
- The U.S. consumes a total of 2,842 cubic meters of water per-person, per year, coming to 920.8 billion cubic meters (or 243.25 trillion gallons) total across a society of 324 million people. On a per-day basis, that comes to 667 billion gallons. 20% of that is 133 billion gallons.
- For initial deployment we will estimate that the National Aqueduct will store 300 billion gallons of water at any given moment in time, 60% (180 billion gallons) of which is stored in pipeline arrays with the rest in storage tanks.
Based on these figures we'll start first with cost, and then shift 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, or 1.11 million gallons for an array of nine (2,626 cubic meters per kilometer for an array of nine). If 180 billion gallons are stored in pipelines, that would require us to have 161,186 miles (259,404 km) of pipeline arrays.
At a cost of $5.34 million per mile, that would cost $860 billion.
Cost of Storage: although National Aqueduct storage tanks would differ from commercial storage tanks today, current estimates for water tanks in high-stress areas (from the State of Michigan) come to $2.015 million for a 50' tall steel water tank with a capacity of 2 million gallons, so roughly $1 per gallon. 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. At $1 per gallon, that comes to $120 billion.
Control: 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.
Subtotal cost for National Aqueduct: $1.01 trillion.
With that established, we'll shift towards potential electricity generation.
Electricity due to internal water flow: according to Lucid Energy, the inventor of in-pipeline turbines, a 24" pipe generates 18 kilowatts of power with a flow rate of 24 million gallons per day (MGD). At 18 kilowatt-hours per hour, over a 24-hour day that comes to 423 kilowatt-hours generated per day, 390 kilowatt-hours with an assumed efficiency loss of 10%. Over a calendar year, that's 141,912 kilowatt-hours annually generated per 24 million gallons of water flow. Extrapolated to the million gallon per day level, that's 5,913 kilowatt-hours annually generated per million gallons of water flow.
Assuming the National Aqueduct transports 133 billion gallons of water per day, that's 133,000 million gallons of water flow, which would generate 786.4 million kilowatt-hours annually.
Electricity due to solar panels: assuming we deploy 161,186 miles (259,404 km) of National Aqueduct pipeline arrays, and each mile of pipeline array has 36,960 square feet (3,433 square meters) of surface area, that's 5.96 billion square feet (553.5 million square meters) of solar-enabled surface area.
As each panel has an output of 15 watts per square foot and assuming a nationwide average of 5 peak sun hours per day (which incorporates any efficiency losses), that's a total daily output of 75 watt-hours per square foot, which comes to 27.38 kilowatt-hours generated per square-foot annually. Across the entire Aqueduct, 5.96 billion square feet generating 27.38 kilowatt hours annually comes to 163.1 billion kilowatt-hours annually generated from pipeline-mounted solar panels.
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 185 °F (85 °C ), with a national average outside temperature of 55.7 °F (13.16 °C). Relying on the formulas from Engineering Toolbox, we'll assess that 300 billion gallons would have a potential energy output of 86.2 billion kilowatt-hours. At an estimated efficiency loss of 10%, that comes to 77.58 billion kilowatt-hours of potential energy.
Subtotal electricity generation over a calendar year:
Internal turbines: 786.4 million kilowatt-hours
Solar panels: 163.1 billion kilowatt-hours
Hot water inside pipelines: 77.58 billion kilowatt-hours.
Total annual electricity generation: 241.5 billion kilowatt-hours.
Estimated Total Cost of National Aqueduct: $1.01 trillion at an output of 241.5 billion kilowatt-hours of energy per year and 133 billion gallons of water per day.
- Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactors are estimated to cost $1.93 trillion and generate 6.77 trillion kilowatt-hours annually.
- Solar road surfaces are estimated to cost $1.406 trillion and generate 363 billion kilowatt-hours annually.
- The National Aqueduct is estimated to cost $1.01 trillion, generate 248 billion kilowatt-hours annually, and provide 133 billion gallons of fresh water per day.
Combined: $4.35 trillion to generate 7.38 trillion kilowatt-hours and transport 48.5 trillion gallons of fresh water per year.
After covering electricity generation and the cost of those systems, we'll shift gears to the systems that synthesize water and fuel. In doing so, however, we won't be estimating their implementation in greater Energy Plants (which would likely be the case in practice). This is because cost figures for cogenerating Energy Plants are not yet present, so we'll instead estimate the cost of building these systems on a standalone basis (with the exception of constructing water desalination facilities without internal power plants) - even though it would translate to far higher costs in this estimate:
Most modern desalination facilities today are in the Middle East. Although they are capable of desalinating immense volumes of seawater, they generally are self-powered with internal power plants. This makes their construction significantly more expensive than desalination facilities would be within Energy Plants.
As the backbone of Universal Energy is provided by LFTRs, desalination facilities wouldn't need their own external power infrastructure in this model - nor would they need to consume as much additional energy, as routing desalination functions with the non-radioactive heat exchangers of LFTRs in a cogenerating capacity would dramatically reduce external energy requirements.
Because of this, desalination plants will cost far less in the Universal Energy framework than they do as standalone entities today. So to come to a cost estimate, we'll need to make a few more assumptions:
- The largest desalination facility in the world is currently the Ras Al Khair Desalination Plant in Saudi Arabia. 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). It cost $7.2 billion to construct, and is also a 2,400 MegaWatt power plant.
- 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). 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.
- 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).
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 plant that powers the facility and Fujairah's power plant only outputs 656 megawatts. Its power generating potential is nearly four times higher, but in terms of desalination (270 million gallons per day versus 100 million), it's water output is only 2.7 times higher. As Universal Energy's desalination facilities don't need external power infrastructure, our cost estimate must separate that element out.
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.
According to the EIA, a Natural Gas-fired Combined Cycle power plant (Adv Gas/Oil Comb Cycle CC) power plant has an overnight cost of $1,080 per kilowatt for a 429 megawatt variant. That means a 429 megawatt power plant would cost $463.2 million to construct, or roughly $1.08 million per megawatt.
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 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 output: $0.013 per gallon / $3.67 per cubic meter.
Averaging these together, that comes to $0.018 (1.8 cents) 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. The National Aqueduct is intended to provide 20% of that figure, coming to 133 billion gallons per day, or 48.5 trillion gallons per year. (180 billion cubic meters).
At a price of 1.8 cents per gallon, constructing facilities with a capacity to produce 48.5 trillion gallons per year would cost an estimated $853.2 billion.
Total estimated cost for water desalination: $873 billion.
Analysts from the Department of Energy 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 Universal Energy framework is to produce fuel, we'll look at our domestic gasoline usage as a metric as opposed to overall petroleum consumption. According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. consumed 140.43 billion gallons of gasoline in 2015. Although this model envisions the majority of cars migrating to electric due to Universal Energy'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. 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. 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. 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. At a market sale of $3 per kilogram from the Public Interest Company, that would generate $172.85 million per year.
Total estimated cost for hydrogen production: $131.33 billion for facilities that generate $172.85 million annually in revenue at a market cost of $3 per kilogram of compressed hydrogen.
Cost of electricity: $4.35 trillion to generate 7.38 trillion kilowatt-hours and transport 48.5 trillion gallons of fresh water per year.
Cost of water desalination: $873 billion
Cost of hydrogen production: $131.33 billion
Subtotal: $5.35 trillion.
Extra buffer for unforeseen costs: this cost estimate is compiled from the best-effort research I was able to perform in the various sectors these technologies exist within. However, although the framework is sound in concept, deploying such a large-scale public works effort on a country as large and environmentally diverse as ours may present challenges that I simply cannot effectively estimate at this time. For this reason, even though this estimate is high in general, we'll include an additional cost buffer of 20%, or $1.15 trillion (115 billion over a 10 year implementation period). With this buffer included, the grand total of Universal Energy's implementation comes to $6.5 trillion spread out over a 10 year period, which is roughly 1/2 our present military spending.
Grand total: $6.5 trillion
Beyond the $1.15 trillion cost buffer mentioned above, this estimate includes higher-than-likely costs out of sake of intellectual honesty as it's driven by several assumptions. At the end of the day, it's better to estimate high than low. But in reality there are myriad price reductions that would likely apply should this implementation strategy go forward:
- Learning Ratio: As we saw from Chapter 2, 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.
In terms of commercial products, companies improve models to sell at the same price, so while the price of a new iPhone, for instance, hasn't dropped - the power and performance capabilities of an iPhone 7 are several orders of magnitude higher than those of the original iPhone.
Learning ratio applies strongly within Universal Energy's technologies as most are in their technical infancy and stand to enjoy substantial improvements through greater investment and research. As such, the price of LFTRs, National Aqueduct infrastructure, solar road systems, hydrogen production systems and even water desalination facilities stand to see massive price reductions as prefabrication and mass production of these technologies reaches full stride.
As it's prohibitively difficult to accurately assess what these reductions might look like they were not incorporated in the pricing model. However, in reality they would be significant, almost certainly in the hundreds of billions of dollars over time.
- Energy Plants: Energy Plants are the envisioned approach for large-scale implementation of Universal Energy's power, 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, in effect, would make it less expensive than presently estimated to build all of the systems discussed herein.
- Energy cost reductions: Universal Energy'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. 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. As we'll see later in Chapter 15: The Energy Economy, energy costs are a huge component of a company's bottom line, especially in manufacturing - sometimes upwards of 15-30%.
If we're able to reach Universal Energy's target of 2 cents per kilowatt hour, that's many billions of dollars that businesses don't have to pay to build products to take to market, the systems behind Universal Energy being no exception. That's billions of dollars that no 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.
- Reduced social afflictions: Universal Energy is designed to solve resource scarcity so that unlimited energy and resources in turn can solve the myriad social afflictions fueled by resource scarcity - afflictions that suck immense funds, time and concentration from our society. Poverty, crime, economic depression, failing infrastructure, lost hope and lackluster employment among them. All of these problems consume huge percentages of public budgets - the war on drugs, alone, for example costs $50 billion per year. 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.
As you can see, with the presence of these cost reductions in practice it is highly likely that the present cost estimate of $6.5 trillion for Universal Energy's implementation is on the high end, 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 the scale of implementation in kind.