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Energy Economy

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"And when at last it is time for the transition from megacorporation to planetary government, from entrepreneur to emperor, it is then that the true genius of our strategy shall become apparent, for energy is the lifeblood of this society and when the chips are down he who controls the energy supply controls Planet. In former times the energy monopoly was called "The Power Company"; we intend to give this name an entirely new meaning."

Some works of science fiction and fantasy have societies or groups that use energy as a monetary unit. This is not about what the Enron Corporation used to do, buying and selling energy; this trope is about cases when the energy or energy source itself is the money. In some cases, an energy crisis is equivalent to an economic recession.

While this has not been Truth in Television yet, it has been seriously proposed in the past, most notably by R. Buckminster Fuller, as well as by Technocracy, Inc. during its heyday of the 1930s.

This is a sub-trope of Practical Currency. In economics, this would be a form of Commodity Money: it is used as currency but can serve another function.


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  • Last Exile has Claudia, the in-universe universal engine fuel. It's hard to mine and very sought after, so small amounts of it are used as currency. Ran out of gas? Throw your wallet in the tank!

    Comic Books 
  • Energon in Transformers is used as currency in parts of the galaxy as well as the primary source of power for the bots and their weapons. This applies primarily to the Marvel Comics run of the comic books and the G1 cartoon; other versions of the franchise tend to either depict the use of some other form of currency or no currency at all.
  • The Faltine from Marvel Comics, are a race of energy beings from Another Dimension who exchange forms of energy like humans would precious minerals. Their name is commonly evoked by magic users like Doctor Strange, as a mutually beneficial exchange of energies.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the movie In Time, each person's 1 year of life (after they reach 25 years old) is their currency. People are paid in extra life time and pay with the same. When the account runs out, they die immediately.

  • A Hero's War: With the help of Cato's knowledge of chemistry and industrialisation, the territory of Minmay grows so quickly that it faces a currency crisis. They simply don't have enough gold and silver to make coins for all the goods they're able to produce, and their ruler refuses on principle to issue unbacked fiat currency. One proposal is to use standardised amounts of stored magic, since it's inherently valuable but also will naturally tend to fluctuate in value to match productivity.
  • In the Void Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton, the race of 'Higher' humans use Energy and Mass Allowance (EMA) as a kind of currency. The majority of Highers live non-corporeally, but their EMA can be pooled as part of a 'Faction' or in smaller groups to effect change in both the physical and simulated realms.
  • The Red Mars Trilogy used calories of heat as the basis of the Martian economy.
  • In Tim Powers' Dinner at Deviant's Palace, the dominant currency in a Scavenger World L.A. is a high-proof distilled alcohol: useable as a fuel, a disinfectant, or as plain ol' booze, hence much in demand.
  • Wizards in the Young Wizards series can use energy as payment at The Crossings, although presumably this is only worthwhile when they're on errantry and the payment is subsidized. They could still pay using their own personal energy, but it might not be worth paying for lunch only to be hit with a lunch's worth of energy drain.
  • In Bruce Coville's Rod Allbright Alien Adventures series, the intergalactic currency units are energy credits. The captain even refuses a detour since rerouting the spaceship would use more energy than his crew makes in a year.
  • At the end of Making Money, Lord Vetinari and Moist von Lipwig consider putting the Ankh-Morpork economy on the "golem standard", such that dollars could be exchanged for a set amount of labor by a municipal golem.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Strata, the standard galactic currency is Days. Everyone can get immortality of the Age Without Youth variety from the Treatment but only the Company (which issues the currency) can restore youth. Each Day can be turned in for one day of rejuvenation.
  • In the Warlock of Gramarye series, the interstellar government's currency is the "kwaher" or kilowatt-hour.
  • The Council Wars series starts out this way, with there being so much cheap power that no one really needs to use it as a currency. It's just easier than trying to find something that both parties will find valuable. After the Fall, they have to come up with a completely new economy.
  • H. G. Wells:
    • The Shape of Things to Come, the World Transport Union creates the "air dollar." (Spending one air dollar would allow you to transport one kilogram one kilometer in the WTU's aircraft, or something like that.) Eventually it's replaced by the "energy dollar," which is a straight play on this trope.
    • And in The World Set Free after the War the newly established world government instituted a common currency based on amounts of energy produced by atomic power, as the reactors produced gold as a by-product making it worthless, and the government had control of all sources of atomic energy following the horrors of the war.
  • In Metatropolis New St. Louis and associated city-states assign citizens "energy budgets" rather than using money. If someone is kicked out (generally for not getting a job by 20) they're given a credit card with a few ounces of gold on it.
  • In The Stormlight Archive, the currency unit is "spheres", small glass beads with gemstones inside. However, the gems are valued almost exclusively because they're the only way to transport or store the titular Stormlight, which is the fuel for all magic on this world including both the Magitek fabrials that create food, allow for communication, provide heat, etc and the more mystic Surgebindings that some can perform.
    • In later books in the series, it's revealed that this applies in Shadesmar to an even greater degree. In the Physical, gemstones are recharged with Stormlight by the highstorms on an almost weekly basis, but in Shadesmar, where the highstorms don't have this effect, Stormlight itself is the currency rather than the gemstones.
    • Rhythm of War also reveals that Investiture itself is the primary currency among worldhoppers. This would make Roshar, where Investiture literally rains from the sky, a metaphorical goldmine... except that Stormlight is metaphysically linked to Roshar, and cannot be taken off-planet.
  • The future segments of The Green Leopard Plague from the anthology of the same name have the world operating on something like this. Characters are paid for work they do for others in "Calorie Hours" which apparently denotes their use of photosynthetic energy. A crude form was discussed in the flashback segments when a genetic modification was discovered that would allow mammalian bodies to absorb sunlight and create nutrients like a plant, undercutting the world's economy as people who didn't work would no longer be able to starve. Given this would make already undesirable but necessary jobs even less likely to be taken up, a system was needed that would not force people to resort to forced labor.
  • At one point during Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, we find out that on the severely overpopulated, starving Earth, calories and kilocalories of sustenance are used as currency.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Stargate SG-1, most galactic trade is conducted using naquadah; the Unobtainium that all the space opera tech uses, including the power sources. It also enhances nukes from city-busters to planet-busters.
  • Believing Earth to have a "petroleum-based economy", in The Strangerers, the aliens try to pay at a shop using a small can of oil.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Wizards of the Coast's The Primal Order RPG supplement suggests the possibility of a divine economy running on "primal base", a persistent form of divine power.
  • Exalted has one of the most basic versions of this — employees of Yu-Shan are paid in ambrosia. That is, little coins of Impossibly Delicious Food. It's mentioned that a common problem amongst new bureaucrats is the literal consumption of their entire operating budget. In addition, ambrosia can be transformed into...well, pretty much anything, really. This is generally the use toward which it is expected to be put—why eat it when a single coin could give you more resources than the mayor of a small city?
  • White Wolf's Mage: The Awakening uses Tass, solidified magical energy that can augment and stabilize spells. Though Mana is relatively easy to come by, refining it into Tass takes a degree of expertise, and a unit of Tass is said to retail for around $10 000 — which probably reflects just how easily mages can make money.
  • Atlas Games' Ars Magica, a spiritual predecessor to Mage: The Awakening, also has solidified magic power in the form of Vis. Since it's essential in powerful ritual spells and magic item creation, control and trade of Vis is the basis of the economics of magic covenants. It's exchanged for favors, support, access to libraries and in places where it's scarce — such as the Roman Tribunal — for enormous amounts of money. The vis "tainted" by the power of the Techniques (magic language "verbs") is much more valuable than that which is linked with Forms (names).
  • In the Mystara setting of Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The wizard elite of Glantri use a currency consisting of coins imbued with magical energy. The holders of such coins can power spells with that energy, allowing them to use more spells per day than would otherwise be possible.
    • In Bruce Heard's Voyages Of The Princess Ark article on Limbo, souls there can use their own residual life force as currency.
  • In Myriad Song the technocratic Concord and the totalitarian Solar Creed both base their currencies, the "masey" and "sol" respectively, on the mega-calorie, or the amount of energy needed to boil ten liters of ice-cold water. Both have about a 100:1 exchange rate with the Imperial Monetary Note.

    Video Games 
  • Lakeburg Legacies uses Love as one of its main currency forms. It's needed to have villagers interact with each other, used when searching for a soulmate from the fortune-teller matchmaker, and gets replenished by having happily married couples.
  • Startopia not only has energy as currency, but uses power, which power boosters, convert the energy (currency) into power for buildings, not enough power and buildings shut down, too much energy being used for power and you go bankrupt AND buildings shut down.
    • Extra energy could also be procured by recycling stuff, making the Polvakian Gem Slugs, who excreted the high energy content Turdite, the richest creatures in the universe. That's right, they literally crapped money.
    • Cargo is used to supply shops that use the respective items such as food for Dine-O-Mats (Food/Mineral Ores) but if it lacks the kind of cargo needed then it will use energy as a back up but it can suck down too much energy if you're not careful.
  • Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri has energy credits, the more energy collecting facilities, the higher the income. Notably, the main energy facilities are solar collectors (which produce more energy based on elevation—the higher up you are, the more energy you produce) and tidal harnesses: both clean, renewable energy. This has two reasons, one Watsonian, one Doylist. On the Watsonian side, this is partly necessity—Planet has virtually no fossil fuels to speak of. On the other hand, the Doylist reason becomes obvious when considering the third method of gaining energy, the thermal borehole: it produce massive amounts of energy, but is likely to attract the wrath of Planet if you're not careful.
  • While rings are used as health and energy in Sonic the Hedgehog, they have been used as a currency in some games, such as Sonic Adventure 2 and Sonic the Hedgehog (2006).
  • Transarctica centers on a train/base that runs on two kinds of coal, lignite and anthracite. Since the world is in the grip of a new ice-age and heating is at a premium, lignite is used a the main currency. Anthracite is more energy efficient, less volatile, but more rare, if that runs out, you'll have to fuel your engines with cold cash. If you're in a major hurry, throwing some cash on the boiler may be worth it.
  • Margin from the freeware adventure game, A Second Face is used as both currency and as a fuel source.
  • The X-Universe games have energy cells as the subsidized basis of the economy. However, while energy cells power production and serve as the basic foundation of the games' dynamic economy, they aren't actually the main currency, which is just the humble Credit.
  • Metal Fatigue has Metajoules as the only resource. Metajoules are acquired from solar and geothermal energy and can only be stored in a finite amount. Justified in that in the far future where the plot happens, direct matter-energy conversion is possible so anything can be manufactured from anything if the raw material is converted into energy then that energy is converted into the intended product.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, Macca is the currency of demons, and its energy qualities are taken literally - you use it to power healing devices in the field, and the amount of Macca you pay for items and healing on the ship is justified as the energy required to materialize the items/power the sickbay.
  • Present and accounted for in Spiral Knights. Players need energy to craft items and go through dungeons, so needless to say, it's in high demand. The player regenerates 100 energy over time, but there is a huge economy for Crystal Energy which can be used whenever they want, and has to be purchased with real world money or from other players.
  • Souls are basically energy in Demon's Souls and Dark Souls. You can use them upon yourself (as experience points) or use them to buy things from merchants (who also presumably use them upon themselves to keep them alive). The game Lampshades that the occasional metal coins you can find (presumably currency of the surrounding countries) are utterly useless in Lordran.
  • Within NationStates, several active futuristic nations use energy at least partially as a currency, or use it to back theirs.
  • Perimeter has a supply-and-demand version of this.
  • Toukiden uses "haku" as currency and it functions much like Macca in Strange Journey: it's the spiritual force that binds things together, and it can be fed to friendly spirits or used to craft items in addition to its use in trade.
  • Everybody Edits has the currency named "energy" that players get every 150 seconds, likely to encourage them to Play Every Day. Not much is known about it besides that it is represented by a yellow lightning bolt.
  • In Battleborn, shards are this during missions and multiplayer matches. They are basically this game's equivalent to the gold obtained during typical MOBA matches. As stars are put under duress in a Darkening process, they exude waves of energy which coalesce into plasmite crystals (aka "shards") when they pass through certain particles or atmospheres. These shards are highly charged with energy, and therefore, are prized where resources are low. In game, shards are found from destroying Exploding Barrel-like canisters, and large shard crystals as well as occasionally as dropped loot from defeated enemies. In missions, the large shard crystals tend to used to power obstacles which open up once said crystals are destroyed. When enough shards are obtained, they can be used to purchase turrets, traps, and drones; activate gear; and in certain Multiplayer modes, buy more powerful Minions. In The Void's Edge, they can be used to give Wolf a temporary upgrade from among three options with one upgrade per person.
  • Stellaris uses "energy credits" as money. Power plants generate more energy, which is used to maintain buildings and ships, power robots, and trade for other resources. Although, precious metals are counted as a source of "energy" and according to the technology description of 3 of 4 power plants they are possibly more akin to capacitors than actual generators. This can get kind of ridiculous if you play a Proud Merchant Race (especially after the Megacorp expansion), since you can easily make so much money just from your internal market that your empire uses no actual generators.
  • FTL: Faster Than Light features several situations where your fuel can be used to barter for other resources, such as drones.
  • Fate/Grand Order has two kinds of magical energy utilized by Chaldea for its economy.
    • Quantum Particles/QP for short, which are spiritrons (a magic particle that makes up the soul) mainly used to power up your Servants.
    • Prisms, of which there are three different kinds: Mana, Pure, and Rare. These are crystallized mana cubes which can be traded in da Vinci's workshop for Craft Essences, Embers, Upgrade Materials, and Fou cards.
  • Mega Man ZX: One of the functions of the collectible Energy Crystals is as currency.
  • Mega Man Legends: The refractors that the Reaverbots and other mechanical foes drop upon defeat double as both the world currency (Zenny) and an energy source.
  • TRON 2.0: Energy is used to purchase subroutines. With Jet, it's not a big deal as he has large and easily replenished energy reserves. In the Killer App game for Gameboy Advance, it's trickier, as paying for subroutines with energy is a Cast from Hit Points for Tron and Mercury.
  • The New Order Last Days Of Europe: Eccentric "Visionary Socialist" Zndanov introduces energy based currency as part of his zany pursuit of winning the Space Race, if he gains power in his post-apocalyptic slice of balkanized Russia.

    Web Comics 
  • Calories and volts are the currency in Weapon Brown. As it's After the End, both are fairly scarce. At one point a character is shown paying for something with a handful of D-cell batteries.

    Real Life 
  • A real life version of this would be bartering with electricity, oil, or other types of fuel. Iraq used to do this under the UN's Oil-for-Food Programme (for all the good it did them in the end).
  • This is a very real possibility for the basis of a Post-Scarcity Economy: if anything can be produced in any amount for anyone, say by magic nanomachines (would you prefer to pave your driveway with diamonds or emeralds?), then the 'monetary value' of an item becomes meaningless other than the amount of energy required to produce it.