We’ve previously discussed how Universal Energy is based on mindsets of modularity and standardization. If you recall, modularity is the idea that a system is designed from the ground up to be flexible in terms of how its deployed. A good example of this are Legos™, perhaps the most iconic of children’s toys. Each lego can fasten to another lego using the same standardized method, and everything from simple structures to architectural masterpieces are built from pieces that connect together in the exact same way.
Standardized computer ports (USB), AC power cables, audio/visual ports (HDMI) and so on are extensions of this idea. That’s because standardizing function in a way that's modular reduces complications for building things and lowers the bar (and research and development costs) for manufacturing.
But we’ve only taken this idea so far. It’s common for a product today to use a standardized power plug or accept the same type of battery, but beyond that things become more disparate. We saw earlier how most power plants are built as unique entities - they might standardize a doorway, air duct or stairwell, but the system as a whole is essentially made to order. The same is true with most larger-scale things in our society. Every bridge built, house constructed, building erected or road paved was done so as a custom entity - one of a kind, every time.
This is because we are presently living in a world with technical limitations that would make it difficult to build something like a bridge, house or building on an assembly line. Removing this limitation is the last function Universal Energy is intended to perform.
With an indefinite supply of all critical resources, especially energy, fuel and materials, we have the building blocks to build as much as we want, however we want. Combined with sophisticated computing and modeling, 3D-printing with high manufacturing tolerances and specialized materials, we can automate construction of sophisticated systems on a far larger scale. The application of this idea is known as “prefabrication,” which in short means building something in a factory and assembling it at a final location, instead of constructing it from scratch with basic building materials. And it’s something we’ve already made great headway on today.
For example: this is a prefabricated house:
This house was not constructed at this location – it was assembled here. There were no workmen cutting wood for framing, running electrical lines or plumbing. This house was built on a factory assembly line in the same way a vehicle or television is built, itself a clone of many others that came before or after it. It was delivered in pieces to a construction site by truck, and was assembled in a manner of days.
This house came with a fully finished interior, with all electrical, plumbing and heating elements pre-installed beforehand. Should the homeowners decide one day they want to expand the size of their home, it would be a matter of bringing in a new piece, removing modular components from the original house, and fastening the new piece on. If they wanted to move, they could disassemble their house, put it on trucks, and assemble it again somewhere else. Should they decide to raze the lot and build a different structure, the house could be disassembled and sent back to the factory for recycling.
Essentially, we can now build houses with life-sized Legos.
Prefabricated homes have been growing in popularity, especially since they offer high efficiency and durability. However, the price of these homes is still comparatively steep. Today, the costs to deliver a fully finished prefabricated home ranges between $140-$200+/sqft, considerably higher than the $125/sqft national average for a traditionally constructed home.
But this price range includes expenses inherent to any fledgling industry: initial research and development, prototyping, marketing, etc., and those costs have to be recouped through fewer sales in a small (yet growing) market. Additionally, the energy and materials in which to construct and transport prefabricated homes is currently a major expense. Yet with these obstacles mitigated through Universal Energy and the previously mentioned advances in synthetic materials, we could soon find ourselves in a position to drop the cost of these houses significantly.
Houses are only one example of the potential benefits of prefabrication, as practically anything can be built this way: LFTRs, solar roads, multi-stage flash distillation facilities, hydrogen production infrastructure, Energy Plants, National Aqueduct and urban vertical farm components, even larger buildings and vehicles for public transportation.
To elaborate further, take a look at the following two images. The image on the bottom-left shows the Boeing Corporation's Everett production plant that can fully assemble ten 787 Dreamliner aircraft per month, which translates to one aircraft every three business days. The image on the bottom-right shows a 30-story prefabricated building built by the Broad Sustainable Buildings corporation in Changsha, China, that was assembled on-site in 15 days. That’s two stories a day – finished.
These exemplify what we can do with today’s technology. Adding on Universal Energy-underwritten energy cost reductions and improvements in manufacturing and materials, there are few limits to the possibilities in front of us. We can sustainably prefabricate essentially whatever we want on grand scales, and we can build it better and less expensively than we can today. In doing so, we can advance our economy, society and infrastructure, but we can also ensure shelter as a resource, which brings us back to housing. That’s because at this scale of manufacturing prowess, building small homes on assembly lines becomes trivial.
These homes are made from shipping containers – the same kind that is used to transport goods on trucks and cargo ships. Shipping containers are so plentiful and made so inexpensively that in some cases it’s actually cheaper to have goods sent from China to the United States on new containers than it is to ship the empty ones back. This leaves thousands of containers nationwide to be left near shipping yards, prompting innovative architects to use them as housing structures:
Shipping container homes can also feature multiple containers. The home on the bottom-right was fully constructed for less than $40,000.
As each container is made from steel, they are extremely resilient and boast high load strength. Additionally, shipping containers are naturally easy to transport. This, combined with a high availability of empty containers allows a single-container home to be delivered for between $20,000-$40,000 with today’s energy, shipping and manufacturing costs (we'll assume $30,000 for our purposes). If energy and material cost reductions are applied by way of Universal Energy and learning ratio, this figure would drop substantially.
As a result, we can have a cost-effective method of manufacturing and transporting housing structures practically anywhere. But what does this mean, really? Most importantly, it means that for a modest investment we can provide quality living spaces for anyone who needs a home, such as:
- Victims of natural disasters. As events like Tropical Storm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina, tornados, flooding and wildfires have occurred, thousands to millions of people have been displaced from their homes. This traditionally leads to social problems, including depression, social unrest, higher crime, reduced economic activity, etc., all of which tend to perpetuate each other.
While temporary FEMA trailers have provided relief to some extent when disasters have struck, these shelters have been leased for free only temporarily, and at $70,000 each cost twice as much to produce than a shipping container living space of similar size does currently. At $30,000 each, we can provide homes that come prefabricated with heat, hot water and a comfortable, warm and private space for people who have lost everything – a model that no doubt could be applied globally.
Indeed, during the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake, roughly 105,000 homes were destroyed with another 208,000 badly damaged. International governments devoted millions of dollars to help rebuild, with some $93 million going to build some 2,600 homes – roughly $36,000 a house. Approximately $13 billion was donated to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake in the form of international aid, and much of Haiti today looks little different from what it did after the earthquake. Had we been able to purchase shipping container homes, at the price of $30,000 each, it would have cost $9.3 billion - meaning that we’d have provided living spaces to replace every damaged and destroyed home with another $3.7 billion to spare.
- Low-income/fiscally conservative individuals. The average price for a single-family home in the United States is nearly $300,000 – a considerable obstacle for even the median wage earner in this country, and half of us are worse off than that. Consequently, many families rent their living space, and as rent prices have largely increased in inflation-adjusted dollars over the past 30 years (whereas the median income has not), many American families are increasingly placed in precarious financial situations.
Homes made by multiple shipping containers can cost significantly less than homes made via traditional construction methods, with rates of $75 per square foot or less not unheard of. This allows people to take advantage of the equity value of home ownership at far lower price points than is possible today. Perhaps a family can’t afford to buy a house and are forced to rent at the expense of their ability to save money or invest in something they own.
Conversely, perhaps a family wishes to purchase a modest home on a larger plot of land with more cash on hand as opposed to a more expensive house with a heavier mortgage. Shipping container and prefabricated homes (once their price drops sufficiently) make either possible.
- Homeless individuals. There are an estimated 565,000 homeless people in the United States currently, and every year the Federal Government spends approximately $4.5 billion on efforts to reduce that number. Assuming the current price of $30,000 for an 8’ x 40’ fully furnished container home, this means that we could provide a comfortable and private living space for every homeless person in this country for $19 billion. That’s what the Federal Government spends on preventing homelessness every five years (roughly 3% of the annual defense budget).
It’s worth mentioning that providing a private living space to someone so they aren’t on the streets isn’t necessarily going to solve the problem of why they became homeless in the first place, as addiction and mental illness are often underlying causes. Yet that it is now within our power to afford anyone a place to live and rebuild their lives is key to solving a major social problem. Corresponding social programs would of course have to be established. But we can now ensure that the lowest level of poverty a person in the United States (and perhaps globally) can fall to is an 8’ x 40’ private living space with heat, hot water and three hot meals a day – a historical first.
Being able to cost-effectively provide comfortable living structures to anyone, especially the most impoverished members of society, is an accomplishment of major significance. It represents a massive leap in our social advancement, and more critically, it’s the final nail in the coffin of resource scarcity. With all of these aforementioned systems combined, we would have the means to synthetically produce everything we need to exist anywhere on levels big and small: electricity, fuel, water, food, advanced building materials and now shelter, and we would have the means to produce them far less expensively than we can today.
Although these systems will cost money to implement (costs that come with detailed financial models we’ll get into in Chapter 15), the costs are both only short-term and are well-worth the benefits Universal Energy provides. Indefinite and sustainable production of the crucial resources our civilization requires to operate would be revolutionary to our way of life, and it would completely change how our society interacts with itself and others across the globe. Most importantly:
This would allow us to reset our relationship to nature. Since we evolved from hunter-gatherer tribes and started building societies, the environment around us has paid the price. We have razed forests, destroyed ecosystems and even changed our planet’s climate. The rise of human civilization, in and of itself, has been an extinction-level event. Universal Energy allows us to chart a different direction because it can provide every resource that we need to exist and advance, dramatically reducing our reliance on nature and the damage we are doing to it.
It’s true that we might increase the extraction of limited materials due to our advancement. But with the implementation of superior recycling and manufacturing systems, this is an element that can be minimized and would ultimately pale in comparison to the other environmental benefits we would see with Universal Energy. We would no longer need to cut down forests for building materials, extract finite sources of oil and gas for energy or devote swaths of land for farming. We would no longer need to deplete natural water sources for drinking, industry or agriculture. We would no longer need to pollute our atmosphere with coal plants or destroy waterways with toxic chemicals or hydroelectric power stations.
We would no longer need to do those things because we would already be provided with what those means deliver as a given. Over time, this would allow nature to return to its natural state, and heal to a point before our hands scarred it.
And this would remove the reason why we fight. For thousands of years, for thousands, we have butchered each other. We have put swords and arrows into bellies, fired bullets, dropped bombs, raped, burned, tortured and exterminated our brothers and our sisters in every horrific manner that we could think of. As we did so, we have told ourselves lies, and allowed ourselves to believe that we were justified in killing and dying by the millions for causes that boiled down to nothing more than resource scarcity and the pursuit of the money, power and economic might it bestows on the winner of its zero-sum games.
We have believed these lies and lived with these horrors because we have had no other choice, and whether near or far from the dirt, the begging, the screams and the blood, we have been powerless to prevent any of it from happening because we had no means to truly change the way the world worked. Now we do.
Today, the zero-sum game no longer has to exist. Like the quill, the steam engine, the VCR and the floppy disk, technology can simply evolve beyond it. No matter how much energy, water, food or materials are consumed by a given society, there will always be more. One can not take too big a piece of the pie, because by design the pie will always replenish at a rate faster than that of consumption. We may well perhaps find reasons to continue our lust for warfare in the future – but resources, and the economic damage caused by their scarcity, will never again be its harbinger.
From there, the world as we have known it changes. The constraints of our current model are lifted, allowing us to advance our existence on our own terms and write our own rules as we go along. As we do so, one by one, so many of the problems of our time (and the time before ours) will be subsequently removed, as resource scarcity and all of the ugliness brought by its existence would thus be extinguished. And through the systems we built to save ourselves, we would be unburdened from the weight of those problems and hindrances, empowering us as a civilization to move forward without them – and build a better world upon their ruin.
A New Way Forward
Universal Energy is first and foremost a framework, and its ultimate purpose is to make a new model for our society to operate within. This model is not based on economics – it’s based on technology. It doesn’t use money to pay for social programs that mitigate social problems. It uses money to build systems that make those problems irrelevant.
10,000 years ago, making fire was a problem. Today, you light a match. 300 years ago, transportation over distance was a problem. Today, you hop in a car, bus or plane. 100 years ago, disease was a problem. Today, modern medicine can cure all but the most severe ailments. And today, energy and resources are a problem.
Through technology, they don’t have to be a problem tomorrow.
For millennia, resource scarcity has been a central, dominating fixture in how we interact with each other and operate as a civilization, chaining us and our economy to its restrictions. And with its chains removed, the entirety of our social strength and economic might can be devoted to improving our society and all that exists within it, for through Universal Energy and the models that it underwrites, we now have the power to transform our civilization into something completely new.
By dramatically lowering the costs of energy, resources and materials while improving the quality of life for everyone, the costs of doing effectively everything fall, as do the amount of resources that have to be devoted to address social afflictions. This frees up state funds that could be devoted to social advancement, the same with industry, which would have significantly increased capabilities to build ever-greater accomplishments.
In a scarcity-free world, we would have nigh unlimited potential to discover, create, construct and achieve. That world, and the economy it would power, is a future that we can begin building today. And that, above all else, is a future worth having.
A future worth having. That is what we strove for once, and it’s something we can strive for again. And with Universal Energy behind us, I believe that we can. But I also believe we have lost something that we once cherished: the drive to build great and amazing things. Minus the weapons systems that we devote trillions of dollars toward, that collective drive has been forsaken.
The past six decades saw us build the interstate highway system, put a man on the moon and invent GPS and the internet. We didn’t care about difficulty or political opposition – we achieved those goals because we could and because they proved to ourselves that we were worthy of our pedigree as a people.
Today, amidst the backdrop of our crumbling roads, collapsing bridges and aging skyscrapers, we are living within a decaying testament to the greatness we once sought and collectively built. So thus we sit here despondent, reduced to bickering amongst ourselves about how we’re going to pay for anything of actual social value. That is not who we are, and that is not where we came from. We deserve a better future than Ozymandias, and this is how we may see it realized.
We can see it realized because Universal Energy has a second function, one that only becomes possible once we reach this stage. Its first goal is to end resource scarcity, this is true. But Universal Energy’s intended purpose is to take us well beyond that. Its goal, ultimately, is to serve as a vehicle to our next stage of evolution as a civilization. Because on the platform that these technologies provide, it allows us to devote our full strength to advance our society even further, and build a world we had thought possible only in dreams.