Villain #6–reaching for (or believing in) a “Magic Wand”

Back in mid-2017, I spoke at Clean Energy Summit 2017 and provided a forecast of sorts (for train wreck underway).  Since that time I have been progressively posting more about a Listing of Villains that I spoke about at the time – and which we see at work in helping our complex energy transition run off the rails:

Villain #1 First and foremost, I see the long-running failure of our “emperors with no clothes as a huge (and perhaps the biggest) driver of our energy transition train wreck …
Villain #2 … however our political class have been aided and abetted by us, the voting public, in that we have been seemingly unable to deliver stable support for the complexities inherent in such a large transformation …
Villain #3 Both politicians and public alike have been pulled from both extremes by an increasingly loud shouting match that’s emerged across both extremes of the Emotion-o-meter.
Villain #4 With participants at all points on that scale (including us as a company, and yours truly) suffering from the yawning gap that’s emerging between required and current “Energy Literacy”.
Villain #5 We see a number of instances where there seems to have been a tendency of not focusing on the real problems at hand.

Today (with this post) I note one of the other tendencies we’re seeing – one that is, at the same time, both:
1)  A very understandable human trait in dealing with rapidly increasing complexity (and hence the emergence of Villain #4); but
2)  Not helpful – especially when we don’t realise we’re doing it.

All too frequently, over the years, have we seen people reach for some kind of “Magic wand” as a form of cure-all to the vexed challenges we face in the energy sector.

“when one has a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail”

We’ve sometimes caught ourselves tempted to do the same thing ourselves.  No doubt, there are other times where we have slipped up and allowed such thinking to propagate into our analysis and commentary – and potentially in our software products as well.


My sense is that this propensity is not isolated to any particular point of the Emotion-o-meter – though the particular choice of magic wand does seem to be.

It’s also important to note that the core piece of technology (or process) that has increasingly been appropriated as a magic wand does have some inherent value.  It seems to us that the problems begin when this “thing” becomes abstracted away from its pros (and its cons) to be seen as a cure for all ills.

I’ll start this post off today by noting a couple examples of how we’ve been seen to exhibit this sort of behaviour with respect to the energy sector transition.  As time permits, I’ll post separately about other examples, and link them into the table below…

Date added Example of Villain #6 Brief discussion
Initial (Thu 8th Nov 2018) An obsession about “Base Load” The term “baseload” seems to have taken on almost mythical, magical qualities in recent years –  representing (to some) all that would serve to fix the current train wreck unfolding in the energy sector, or (to others) representing all that ails the same energy sector.

With such a complex problem set (and an almost inevitably complex solution required as a result), resolving either of these to a simplistic label does not seem to be helping us in either case.

Let’s call this instance Villain 6a.

Initial (Thu 8th Nov 2018) Latching onto “Storage” as a magic cure-all Another case we are bumping into frequently is a tendency for some to wave the “storage is the solution” magic wand – without considering the pros and cons.

Let’s call this instance Villain 6b.

Tue 5th March 2019 Believing that “Demand Response” is a cure to any gap in the supply-demand balance in your model In conjunction with these more general thoughts about the AEMC’s latest deliberations about ways to promote a more active and responsive demand side of the electricity supply/demand balance, I posted about the propensity by some to assume “Demand Response” can paper over any gap between supply/demand in their model.

Let’s call this instance Villain 6c.

Sun 24th May 2020 A simplistic belief that “Diversity will cure it all” in relation to extremes in variability After touching on this topic numerous times in various articles, I was finally prompted to contribute this short article about how reaching for a simplistic belief of ‘diversity will cure it’ is not going to help us actually make the energy transition succeed.

Let’s call this instance Villain 6d.


It’s worth noting, however, that others at the ‘rabid right’ end of the Emotion-o-meter (themselves very much also Villains) seem to naively clutch onto the notion that diversity is of no use whatsoever …

Later More to come… We’ll add more examples later…

I’m sure that some of our readers will have encountered other examples of how Villain #6 has manifest itself in the energy sector through this transition process.

Feel free to add your examples as comments below, or provide us your feedback directly/confidentially –  or just give us a call!

About the Author

Paul McArdle
One of three founders of Global-Roam back in 2000, Paul has been CEO of the company since that time. As an author on WattClarity, Paul's focus has been to help make the electricity market more understandable.

1 Comment on "Villain #6–reaching for (or believing in) a “Magic Wand”"

  1. Another candidate for the magic wand category is power electronics. While it can support fault levels (part of AEMO’s termed “system strength”) and provide reactive power control (including distribution and transmission voltage control). What it can’t do is let grid operators escape power engineering design.

    On the one hand, the capabilities and limitations have not been considered in VRE location or connection requirements, or protection design. On the other it is just expected that *this or that feature* (synthetic inertia, fast frequency response) will allow wholesale replacement of synchronous plant. The result is many “surprises” in plant response appear at inconvenient times.

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