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Apples and oranges: Comparing nuclear construction costs across nations, time periods, and technologies


  • Lovering, Jessica R.
  • Nordhaus, Ted
  • Yip, Arthur


The literature on energy technology costs, diffusion, and learning has been characterized by data limitations, partial or arbitrary data sets, apples to oranges comparisons, and imprecision in the use of key concepts and terminology. Two responses to our paper, Lovering et al. (2016), by Koomey et al. and Gilbert et al. reflect many of these problems, conflating learning curves with experience curves, trends in actual costs with the relationship between cost estimates and final construction costs, and component costs with total installed costs. The respondents use inconsistent definitions of demonstration, first-of-a-kind, and commercial deployment across different energy technologies. They also propose to compare final installed costs for nuclear power plants, encompassing construction and finance costs, across different national economies and time periods encompassing a wide range of macro-economic circumstances and finance arrangements that overwhelm any signal from trends associated with the actual construction costs of the plants in question. In this response, we address the specific issues raised in these papers and suggest better practices for comparing energy technology costs, trends, and technological learning.

Suggested Citation

  • Lovering, Jessica R. & Nordhaus, Ted & Yip, Arthur, 2017. "Apples and oranges: Comparing nuclear construction costs across nations, time periods, and technologies," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 102(C), pages 650-654.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:enepol:v:102:y:2017:i:c:p:650-654
    DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2016.11.004

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Lovering, Jessica R. & Yip, Arthur & Nordhaus, Ted, 2016. "Historical construction costs of global nuclear power reactors," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 91(C), pages 371-382.
    2. Neij, Lena, 2008. "Cost development of future technologies for power generation--A study based on experience curves and complementary bottom-up assessments," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(6), pages 2200-2211, June.
    3. 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.
    4. 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.
    5. Reichelstein, Stefan & Yorston, Michael, 2013. "The prospects for cost competitive solar PV power," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 55(C), pages 117-127.
    6. Seel, Joachim & Barbose, Galen L. & Wiser, Ryan H., 2014. "An analysis of residential PV system price differences between the United States and Germany," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 69(C), pages 216-226.
    7. 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.
    8. Michel Berthélemy & Lina Escobar Rangel, 2015. "Nuclear reactors' construction costs: The role of lead-time, standardization and technological progress," Post-Print hal-01523016, HAL.
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