February 13, 2008

US Dept of Energy analysis of central power costs

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New Nuclear Plant Orders
A new nuclear technology competes with other fossil-fired and renewable technologies as new generating capacity is needed to meet increasing demand, or replace retiring capacity, throughout the forecast period. The cost assumptions for new nuclear units are based on an analysis of recent cost estimates for nuclear designs available in the United States and worldwide. The capital cost assumptions in the reference case represent the expense of building a new single unit nuclear plant of approximately 1,000 megawatts at a new “Greenfield” site. Since no new nuclear plants have been built in the US in many years, there is a great deal of uncertainty about the true costs of a new unit. The estimate used for AEO2007 is an average of the construction costs incurred in completed advanced reactor builds in Asia, adjusting for expected learning from other units still under construction.

Nuclear Uprates
The AEO2007 nuclear power forecast also assumes capacity increases at existing units. Nuclear plant operators can increase the rated capacity at plants through power uprates, which are license amendments that must be approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Uprates can vary from small (less than 2 percent) increases in capacity, which require very little capital investment or plant modifications, to extended uprates of 15-20 percent, requiring significant modifications. Historically, most uprates were small, and the AEO forecasts accounted for them only after they were implemented and reported, but recent surveys by the NRC and EIA have indicated that more extended power uprates are expected in the near future. The NRC approved 5 applications for power uprates in 2005, and another 13 were approved or pending in 2006. AEO2007 assumes that all of those uprates will be implemented, as well as others expected by the NRC over the next 15 years, for a capacity increase of 2.7 gigawatts between 2006 and 2030. Table 43 provides a summary of projected uprate capacity additions by region. In cases where the NRC did not specifically identify the unit expected to uprate, EIA assumed the units with the lowest operating costs would be the next likely candidates for power increases.

Nuclear Cost Cases
For nuclear power plants, two nuclear cost cases analyze the sensitivity of the projections to lower and higher costs for new plants. The cost assumptions for the low nuclear cost case reflect a ten percent reduction in the capital and operating cost for the advanced nuclear technology in 2030, relative to the reference case. Since the reference case assumes some learning occurs regardless of new orders and construction, the reference case already projects a 17 percent reduction in capital costs between 2006 and 2030. The low nuclear case therefore assumes a 25 percent reduction between 2006 and 2030. The high nuclear cost case assumes that capital costs for the advanced nuclear technology do not decline from 2006 levels (Table 49). Cost and performance characteristics for all other technologies are as assumed in the reference case.

Nuclear power is the energy that has faired the best over time in terms of cost estimate price stability

Recnet Sept 2007 report on rising utility construction costs.

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