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Principals, Agents, and the Learning Curve: The Case of Steam-Electric Power Plant Design and Construction

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  • McCabe, Mark J

Abstract

A number of factors, including design variation and the combination of uncertain costs and cost-plus contracting, diminished opportunities and incentives to improve power plant design and construction over the last several decades. This paper incorporates these factors into a model of learning that relies on a principal-agent framework. The author finds that, because of design variation, learning was reduced when an agent contracted with a series of different principals; agent learning declined when cost uncertainty increased during the late 1970s and 1980s; and, at the same time, the locus of learning may have shifted from agents to principals. Copyright 1996 by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Suggested Citation

  • McCabe, Mark J, 1996. "Principals, Agents, and the Learning Curve: The Case of Steam-Electric Power Plant Design and Construction," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 44(4), pages 357-375, December.
  • Handle: RePEc:bla:jindec:v:44:y:1996:i:4:p:357-75
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    1. John C. Harsanyi & Reinhard Selten, 1988. "A General Theory of Equilibrium Selection in Games," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262582384, January.
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    3. d'Aspremont, C & Gabszewicz, Jean Jaskold & Thisse, J-F, 1979. "On Hotelling's "Stability in Competition"," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 47(5), pages 1145-1150, September.
    4. Bester, Helmut & de Palma, Andre & Leininger, Wolfgang & Thomas, Jonathan & von Thadden, Ernst-Ludwig, 1996. "A Noncooperative Analysis of Hotelling's Location Game," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 12(2), pages 165-186, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Wilson, Charlie, 2012. "Up-scaling, formative phases, and learning in the historical diffusion of energy technologies," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 81-94.
    2. Grubler, Arnulf, 2010. "The costs of the French nuclear scale-up: A case of negative learning by doing," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(9), pages 5174-5188, September.
    3. McNerney, James & Doyne Farmer, J. & Trancik, Jessika E., 2011. "Historical costs of coal-fired electricity and implications for the future," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 39(6), pages 3042-3054, June.
    4. Berthélemy, Michel & Escobar Rangel, Lina, 2015. "Nuclear reactors' construction costs: The role of lead-time, standardization and technological progress," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 82(C), pages 118-130.
    5. Yeh, Sonia & Rubin, Edward S., 2007. "A centurial history of technological change and learning curves for pulverized coal-fired utility boilers," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 32(10), pages 1996-2005.
    6. Kessides, Ioannis N., 2012. "The future of the nuclear industry reconsidered: Risks, uncertainties, and continued promise," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 48(C), pages 185-208.
    7. Lina Escobar Rangel & François Lévêque, 2012. "Revisiting the cost escalation curse of nuclear power: New lessons from the French experience," Working Papers hal-00780566, HAL.
    8. Koomey, Jonathan & Hultman, Nathan E., 2007. "A reactor-level analysis of busbar costs for US nuclear plants, 1970-2005," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 35(11), pages 5630-5642, November.
    9. Lucas W. Davis, 2012. "Prospects for Nuclear Power," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 26(1), pages 49-66, Winter.
    10. Lina Escobar Rangel and Francois Leveque, 2015. "Revisiting the Cost Escalation Curse of Nuclear Power: New Lessons from the French Experience," Economics of Energy & Environmental Policy, International Association for Energy Economics, vol. 0(Number 2).

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