Wealth & Poverty Review Desalinating Water Is Becoming “Absurdly Cheap,” Elon Musk schools Bill Maher

Originally published at Substack

Bill Maher recently interviewed Elon Musk. When Maher claimed that we are running out of water,  Elon replied that “Earth is 70 percent water.” Maher shot back that “you can’t drink that.”  Musk calmly replied that desalination is “absurdly cheap.”

How cheap is cheap? Energy Monitor notes that “Globally, around 1% of the world’s drinking water is desalinated, but in Israel, that figure is around 25%.” Israel’s desalinated water comes from five desalination plants. The Sorek B plant has a capacity to desalinate 52.8 billion gallons a year and is contracted to produce water for $0.41 per cubic meter. There are around 264 gallons per cubic meter, so this would put the cost at one penny per 6.4 gallons. 

One hundred percent of the municipal water supply in the United Arab Emirates is desalinated. Dubai bloomed out of the desert with desalination technology. There are some 186 desalination facilities currently under construction or at the pre-construction phase around the world.

According to the website Filtration and Separation, in 2012 the cost to desalinate was  $0.75 per cubic meter. In 2012 U.S. unskilled labor hourly wages were $10.97. In 2022 they had increased to $15.72.  This would put the time price at 4.14 minutes in 2012 and 1.56 minutes in 2022. Today we’re getting 165 percent more gallons of clean water for the same time price. Water abundance from desalination is growing at a 10.22 percent compound annual rate, doubling in abundance every seven years. This happened at the same time we added 860 million people to the planet. Population was growing at a 1.14 percent annual rate, while desalination grew almost nine times faster.

We’re replacing salt with knowledge and turning a liability into an asset. Human beings are exceptionally clever at innovating. Never underestimate our ability to adapt and thrive as long as we are free to discover new valuable knowledge and share it with others in open markets. 

Become enlightened by reading our new book, Superabundanceavailable at Amazon. Jordan Peterson calls it a “profoundly optimistic book.” There has never been a better time to create more life.

Gale Pooley

Senior Fellow, Center on Wealth & Poverty
Gale L. Pooley teaches U.S. economic history at Utah Tech University. He has taught economics and statistics at Brigham Young University-Hawaii, Alfaisal University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Brigham Young University-Idaho, Boise State University, and the College of Idaho. Dr. Pooley serves on the board of