Hey, I am the energy magnate! – On non-storable resources

Wind turbine

Energy grid manager’s nightmare. Not only demand is unpredictable, but you haven’t got any idea if it’s going to be windy today.

Non-storable resources are bad. You can’t store them. You can’t get independent from them. If you lose them suddenly, you don’t even have any reserve to depend on. Therefore your approach to these has to be slightly different.

A good example of non-storable resource is the energy (although there are some exceptions like storable energy cells in X3: TC). You either use it all, or waste what is remaining. This means excess production is really bad. You are not only freezing resources you have used up to build your facilities, but sometimes also resources you use to run them, like coal for example.

But don’t worry! This article is not only about energy. There are other non-storable resources out there, and another great example is work. Read on to learn a bit more.

This article is a part of our series “Gamers, get your suits on!” on application of management skills and common sense in computer games. You can find the rest of articles here.

Since I’ve already discussed what waste means, and why it is so bad, let’s think of how to optimize your energy supply instead. Do you know, what is the most common cause of drowning? Water. Similarly, the most common reason of wasting energy is generating to much of it. Usually, this results from overpredicting your requirements. Here are the top 3 reasons, that result in overprediction.

1. In many games you hardly ever use your whole energy capacity at the same time

If you are not at war, you don’t really use all your rifle production facilities. But you need the extra capacity just in case of conflict. So you pay a lot for something, that might not even happen. Alternative way is thinking of stuff, that you don’t necessarily need during a conflict.

Assuming it is not some fantasy setting and you don’t have legions of witches, you don’t really need that many broomsticks at that time, do you? You can close your broomstick factory in case of conflict, and use the energy to make guns instead. Safety is something many players want. But really, are broomsticks crucial to survival? No, you need them afterwards to clean up the mess. So stop wasting your resources “just in case”. Try to find your broomsticks in the economy model your game has.

2. You want the excess in case of losing access to one of your energy sources

You’ve certainly got a point here. But think realistically, what are the chances? High? Maybe it is cheaper to add little additional security to minimize the risk? What are the chances you lose a significant part of your overall generation? If you lose small part, maybe you can sacrifice the “broomsticks” without damaging your economy too much?

3. You want to sell it

You’re getting there! But do the maths, very often there are other, much more profitable opportunities out there. Remember, if you lose your customer, you probably won’t be able to find a new one straight away. Think of how long it would take, and how much would you lose in the process. If demand is low (and supply is high), this might result in significant waste. Energy/non-storable resources business might not be that profitable after all.

What to do in cases 1 and 2? Do case 3. If you have excess, sell it, even below your costs. It’s better to get back some of the cost, than nothing at all.  Think of it as of contribution towards your costs in that way, as opposed to source of income. Similarly if you want to be energy-safe, selling what you don’t need ATM will at least decrease the cost.

Sim City 4 Coal Plant

That’s what you typically start with in Sim City 4. Cheap to build, expensive to run and kills all the wildlife. Do you really need that many?

Sim City 4 is a great case study here. Your electricity demand is increasing slowly but constantly, while your production capacity increases in steps (since you can’t really build 1% of an energy plant and using them way below their capacity is extremely expensive on per-kWh basis). In that case, every time I build a plant I try to sell as much energy as possible, and keep decreasing external sales as my electricity demand increases.

A different approach is also possible, and may be combined with the one discussed above. Developing a city usually means you gradually build more modern, energy efficient and “green” energy plants. If you want to be green, go for the good stuff. But you might want to leave the old plants as well, just in case (as long as they are not expensive). Simply use the ones, that are more efficient, and buffer any peaks in energy requirements with inefficient ones. You always want to run your most efficient plants at 100% capacity. Actually, this is how energy grid is actually managed in the real world.

Other non-storable resources

Work

Work is also a non-storable resource.

Until now I have focussed on energy, but there are lots of non-storable resources out there, as I said in the beginning. Another great example is human (and not only human) work. In economy a worker is equivalent to a factory requiring some resources (food, houses, cars etc.) and producing non-storable units of work. And this unit of work is what they actually make during their shift in a factory.

Using electricity you can produce light (another non-storable resource by the way), rifles, broomsticks or cabbages. You just need a couple more resources in that pot. Almost everything is a resource – one might even argue love is one! (guess what it makes) So if there is a concept you wouldn’t call a “resource”, you can often consider it a “non-storable” resource.

Think of studying. You can’t really store your “work units” until 1 week before the exam and then simply study for 168 hours non-stop. And even if you somehow manage to do so, the results might prove to be way below your expectations (or dreams at least). But think of what you can achieve after studying for 3 weeks, 8 hours a day. Let’s hope the knowledge you have learned is a storable resource, when the exam comes! That’s it for today. Stay tuned for the next article: “The clock is ticking”, which covers the importance (and value) of time in games.

Adam Wojciechowski

This article is a part of our series “Gamers, get your suits on!” on application of management skills and common sense in computer games. You can find the rest of articles here.

About The Author

Adam "Fanatyk" Wojciechowski
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I am a co-founder, admin and manager of this site. From time to time I also write articles here. In real life, I am doing my Masters degree in Mechanical Engineering with Management at the University of Edinburgh. Besides gaming I am an avid cyclist, fountain pen enthusiast and windsurfer.

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