Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Problems With Iraq’s Electricity Network

Iraq’s electricity production is far above what it was before the 2003 invasion, yet the lack of power is one of the main complaints average Iraqis have. The problem is two fold. First, after the invasion, those with money went on a buying spree purchasing air conditioners, refrigerators, etc., which greatly increased demand above what it was before when the country was under international sanctions. Second, the U.S. and Iraq have invested billions into the power system, yet much of the equipment can’t be maintained or supplied. Together this has caused continuing problems providing electricity to Iraq’s citizens.

In the first quarter of 2009 Iraq reached a new post-invasion high in electrical output. From January to March 2009 Iraq averaged 118,485 megawatts. With the importation of 13,021 megawatts from Iran and Turkey, total supply reached 131,506 megawatts. This was the third straight quarter that production was up, and was a 10% increase from the last three months of 2008. That averaged out to about 6,300 megawatts per day, which was far about the 4,075 megawatts supplied under Saddam in 2003 before the invasion, and the approximately 4,800 megawatts available in 2008.

Even with that increase the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) estimates that the government only meets about 73% of demand in 2009. An Oxfarm International survey of Iraqi women in the second half of 2008 found that they felt access to power was worse in that year compared to 2006. A January 2009 survey also reported that 43% of respondents only got electricity half of the time. That was a 12% decrease from 2007.

Because Iraqis cannot rely upon the public power network, many turn to private generators to make up the difference. It’s unknown how much is produced this way, but it’s believed to be about 2,000-3,000 megawatts per day. 75% of respondents in the Oxfam survey said they used private generators. If families don’t own their own generator there are many individuals and businesses that offer the service for a fee. SIGIR visited the Haditha Primary Healthcare Center in Anbar for example, and found that it only got 5 hours of electricity from the government, and had to rely upon its own generator for the rest.

One reason that the municipal supply is inadequate is that the country is not generating as much power as it should. Iraq’s power plants operate at less than half of their feasible capacity. This is caused by a number of factors. First, Iraqis have problems operating, maintaining, and sustaining the plants installed by the Americans. Before the U.S. invasion, Iraq relied largely upon foreigners to operate their electrical system. These technicians have mostly left, and Iraq has a shortage of trained personnel because of the war. That means plants are often broken, under repair, or under producing. Another problem is that when the U.S. began its reconstruction effort in Iraq it installed western style turbines, which rely upon natural gas. Iraq has plenty of that resource, but it has never been developed. That means many of these turbines have to run on fuel instead, which burns out the equipment, causing more technical and maintenance difficulties. Iraq has also had severe fuel shortages to run the plants. To add to these difficulties, the Electricity Ministry has not gotten the money that it has requested, and has not been able to spend most of its budget anyway. In 2008 the Ministry got $1.389 billion, $1.3 billion of which was for its capital expenditures to invest in equipment. It only spent 12% of its money however. In 2009, because of the country’s budget problems, the Ministry is getting $1.08 billion for its capital budget, when it asked for $7 billion. The Electricity Minister worries that it won’t be able to keep up with its production this year as a result. This is especially true because the Ministry has bought new turbines, but not the equipment and contracted for the work to connect them to the distribution system.

With security improving in Iraq, the delivery of basic services is becoming a larger issue, and electricity is at the top of the list. Politicians ran on it during the January 2009 provincial elections, and it could be an issue again in the January 2010 provincial balloting. Both the American and Iraqi governments have invested billions into the electricity system, and production is far above what it was in the Saddam years, yet it is still not sufficient to meet demand. Kirkuk is reportedly the only city in the country that has 24-hour power, and that was just achieved in June 2009, six years after the U.S. invasion. With budget, maintenance, fuel, and personnel issues, this could still be a problem six years from now.


Al-Khalid, Diaa, “twenty four hours of electricity in kirkuk!” Niqash, 6/30/09

Miller, T. Christian, “U.S. Missteps Leave Iraqis in the Dark,” Los Angeles Times, 12/25/05

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Iraqi Official Says Power Outages To Ease,” 5/6/09

Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction, “Hard Lessons,” 1/22/09
- “Quarterly Report to the United States Congress,” 4/30/09


Iraqi Mojo said...

Thanks for the analysis, Joel! Electricity will definitely be an issue in the elections.

Joel Wing said...

A friend reminded me that Iraq still has subsidies which means there's no incentives to cut electricity use as another problem with the power network.

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