Electricity can be bedrock of growth for Iraq

15 July, 2019 12:00 AM printer

BAGHDAD: At the Powering Iraq conference in Baghdad last week, the lights went out three times as assembled luminaries discussed rebuilding the country’s electricity system.

The interruptions were a reminder of the daunting task. But electricity minister Luay Al Khatteeb, appointed in October, is beginning to make progress, report agencies.

The electricity sector never really recovered from the damage it suffered in the First Gulf War, the 1990s sanctions, chaos and looting in the wake of the US assault in 2003, and botched reconstruction. Power generation did not reach the pre-invasion level until 2008. Only from 2012 onwards did it really start growing quickly, and then was set back by the disastrous irruption of Isis which destroyed much of the northern infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s population adds more than a million people every year, and there is growing demand for air-conditioning in the searing summers, for television, and to power the crowded new malls popping up around a reviving Baghdad. With electricity available for perhaps 12 to 16 hours per day, even rapid progress in adding new generation is barely closing the gap.

With about 30 gigawatts of plants theoretically in existence, “federal” Iraq (excluding the autonomous Kurdistan region) cranked out about 15 GW at best last year. Repair efforts have increased that this year to about 18 GW.

Iraqis bridge the gap with small neighbourhood diesel generators, which are expensive, noisy and dirty. Despite heavy subsidies on state-provided power – and many consumers not settling their bills or using illegal connections – a household pays three or four times as much as they would in the UAE, for worse service. These generators are usually not powerful enough to run air-conditioning, although costly new systems that can manage are becoming popular.

The creaking transmission and distribution system loses some 40 per cent of the power generated.