x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Iraq aims to double power output

Iraq is racing to more than double its power production in the next three years using everything from the sun to Iranian gas.

A supply deficit of 5,000MW often plunges Iraqi districts into darkness. Andrew Henderson / The National
A supply deficit of 5,000MW often plunges Iraqi districts into darkness. Andrew Henderson / The National

Iraq is racing to more than double its power production in the next two years using everything from the sun to Iranian gas.

By 2014 the nation hopes to grow its total power plant capacity of 9,000 megawattsto 20,000MW, said Karim Al Jumaili, the minister of electricity.

The first phase for 15,000MW-on demand of 14,000MW-was to be completed by next year, he said.

"Our challenge for increasing power in Iraq is the time only - and the fuel," Mr Al Jumaili said on the sidelines of an energy summit in Dubai.

Today a gap of about 5,000MW between supply and demand brings on frequent blackouts - particularly in the hot summer when air-conditioning use peaks - and threatens to hold back the nation's economic growth.

Upgrades to the nation'sfleet of power plants have effectively been at a standstill since the first Iraq war in 1991.

"It had started in 1991, but stopped because of wars and other things," said Mr Al Jumaili. "Now we are starting to restart."

He declined to put a figure on the overall cost of the new infrastructure, but the programme is vast.

It includes a renewable-energy plan that some electricity officials estimate will cost US$1.6 billion (Dh5.87bn) for 400MW of capacity.

Companies have been invited to bid for the first project, a 50MW solar plant expected to be built at a cost of $200 million. The timeline is to build it next year and follow it with a 150MW plant the following year.

The heart of the programme, though, is an expansion of the gas-fired generator fleet to coincide with the start-up of an Iranian gas pipeline projected to be completed next year.

"Maybe in the next four months or six months it will be complete - the pipeline between Iran and Iraq," said Mr Al Jumaili.

Gas supplies are also expected to come from a $17bn project led by Royal Dutch Shell to capture gas being flared at three of the nation's giant oilfields.

Converting older plants to combined cycle units - which capture waste heat to generate additional power - will account for a further 5,000MW of the increase, said the minister.

The central government in Baghdad has struggled to keep up with demand while the semi-autonomous northern Iraqi region of Kurdistan races ahead.

As of last year, Kurdistan was generating power 20 hours each day, compared to an average of four in the rest of Iraq.

The Kurdish region has made moves to sell electricity to neighbouring Iraqi provinces.

Foreign investors, including Abu Dhabi National Energy Company (Taqa) and Sharjah's Dana Gas, have floated plans to enter southern Iraq's energy sector.

In 2008, Taqa had considered building plants to supply local communities, but it now hopes to build power stations for the oil majors who need electricity for their drilling and pumping operations.

"If you're working with the majors, they have their protocols of security, and they're operating there already, so it does make it a little easier than jumping into just a power project in the middle of a town," said Frank Perez, Taqa's head of power and water.

ayee@thenational.ae