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Electricity ProductionLike many developing countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Iraq faces a sharply rising demand for power. For most of the postwar period 2003-2012, Iraq has struggled to meet its power needs. Daily outages lasting 16 hours per day have not been uncommon. Although Iraq purchased 74 turbines, for a total of 10 gigawatts (GW) of capacity in 2008, no progress in installation was made until 2012 because of budgetary, contracting, and political difficulties. In addition, enhancements to the transmission and distribution networks are required to bring additional power to customers. A further bottleneck is that, while this power expansion is planned to be fueled primarily by natural gas-powered turbines, the natural gas infrastructure enhancements to support this expansion have lagged.

As a result, Iraq has had to import electricity from Iran and from Turkish electricity barges (floating power plants) in the Persian Gulf. In addition, there has been a large increase in the number of privately-owned generators, with those in Baghdad alone providing an additional 1 GW of capacity.

Decades of operating power plants without regular maintenance and repairs, coupled with fuel shortages and vandalism, have limited power availability for homes and businesses in Iraq. Restoration of power is critical to the reestablishment of all facets of Iraqi society and is required for sustainable economic growth.

Iraqi electric power consumption increased by a factor of fourteen in the twenty-year period between 1968 and 1988, and in the late 1980s it was expected to double every four to five years. Ongoing rural electrification contributed to increased demand; about 7,000 villages throughout the nation were provided electricity in the same twenty-year period. The destruction in 1980 of power-generating facilities near the Iran-Iraq border interrupted only temporarily the rapid growth in production and consumption. In 1981 the government awarded US$2 billion in contracts to foreign construction companies that were building hydroelectric and thermal generating plants as well as transmission facilities.

By 1983 the production and consumption of electricity had recovered to the prewar levels of 15.6 billion kwh (kilowatt hours) and 11.7 billion kwh, respectively. As previously commissioned projects continued to come onstream, Iraq's generating capacity was expected to exceed 6,000 megawatts by 1986. In December 1987, following the completion of power lines designed to carry 400 million kwh of power to Turkey, Iraq became the first country in the Middle East to export electric power. Iraq was expected to earn US$15 million annually from this arrangement. Long-range plans entailed exporting an additional 3 billion kwh to Turkey and eventually providing Kuwait with electricity.

In 2002, Iraq's power sector was a network of seven large thermal power plants, which produced more than 54 percent of the country's electricity, two hydroelectric facilities generated another 24 percent, and nine gas-turbine power plants provided 21 percent. Before the invasion, Iraq had the "nameplate capacity" to produce over 9,000 megawatts of power. But achieving that level of output required all facilities to be operational and running optimally, which was not possible because of chronic maintenance problems and fuel shortages.

The first Gulf War severely damaged Iraq's power plants, transmission lines, and electrical substations, reducing average daily power output in 1991 to 2,325 megawatts. Revenue from the Oil-for-Food program helped fund repair work that had increased generation to a daily average of about 4,000 megawatts by the end of 2002.

Due to the inequitable distribution of power, most areas of the country struggled with little power under the Baath regime. With the exception of Fallujah, sections of Baghdad and Tikrit, the country received less than 10 hours of power daily. Fallujah, sections of Baghdad and Tikrit were receiving 10-24 hours of electricity daily. The Baath regime drained power from throughout the country to feed Baghdad, leaving more than 80 percent of the country to fend for themselves with private generators. In 2002 Baghdad had access to electricity on a near continuous basis while the rest of Iraq was limited to 3 to 6 hours daily. Even with an unfair system, the former regime was only able to power Baghdad 20-22 hours a day.

On April 11, 2003, the U.S. Army completed its "thunder runs"-armored thrusts into the heart of Baghdad-and now occupied a city where the power grid had crashed, taking down all the other infrastructure systems with it, including water and sewerage. US commanders wanted the lights back on in Baghdad immediately, one of the Coalition's most intractable challenges-Iraq's broken electricity sector. Potable water, sewer systems, and hospitals would not function without power - was just a matter of time before the loss of power would cause a humanitarian crisis. Engineers hit on an idea and immediately set to work to get power to Baghdad by routing the Karkh plant's power through an intermediate substation and onto Baghdad's grid. Lights soon began to flicker on across the city, and the grid was gradually patched back together, averting disaster.

Wars, sanctions, and decades of mismanagement had left the entire network dilapidated. Moreover, the country did not have enough trained personnel to upgrade and maintain the electrical systems. Iraq did not produce enough refined fuels to sustain operations at all of its power plants and the country's pipeline system was inadequately developed to ensure effective delivery of the right fuel to the right power generation facilities.

The decision to install gas turbines, based in part on the assumption that the Iraqi oil industry could rapidly rehabilitate its natural gas industry, foundered when plans to develop the national gas delivery system fell by the wayside. Iraqis filled the power gap by buying small generators to provide power to their homes, as well as to small businesses, water plants, and hospitals. But these generators did not contribute to the national grid, were relatively expensive on a per-capita basis to operate, and exacerbated fuel shortages. Nevertheless, Iraqi entrepreneurs imported and sold tens of thousands of the portable systems to households all over Iraq. The boom in home generation increased demand for refined fuels such as diesel and liquefied petroleum gas, stoking black market activity.

Finally, the insurgency frequently targeted the electricity infrastructure, causing blackouts and impeding progress. The Electrical Power Security Service (EPSS), which had existed under Saddam Hussein, was supposed to protect power plants and substations. The CPA tried to continue this weak force but found that it lacked trained staff, had limited equipment, and was staffed by personnel with little interest in protecting the power grid.

Ambassador Bremer set a lofty new goal. In a broadcast to the Iraqi people on August 29, 2003, he said, "About one year from now, for the first time in history, every Iraqi in every city, town, and village will have as much electricity as he or she can use; and he will have it 24 hours a day, every single day." At the time, the CPA estimated the current unsatisfied demand at 6,000 megawatts, but that number would rise as Iraqis anticipated greater amounts of power being available in the foreseeable future. The Congress allocated $5.56 billion-or nearly 30 percent of IRRF 2-to the electricity sector when it passed the supplemental legislation on November 6, 2003. When the CPA closed its doors on June 28, 2004, Iraq's average daily generation capacity stood at 4,200 megawatts, well short of its 6,000-megawatt goal.

The US government made significant progress in improving electricity supply in Iraq and distributing it more equitably throughout the country. After the regime change, power and the lack thereof was redistributed more equitably across the country. USAID recently completed its three-year, $2.3 billion Iraq Infrastructure Reconstruction Program. Through its overall program, USAID added 1,292 megawatts of electric generating capacity to Iraq's power grid, serving over 7 million Iraqis.

Restoring and improving Iraq's electricity supply has been USAID's biggest and most costly challenge. In April 2003, Iraq's usable electrical generation capacity was 2,500 MW - 58 percent of the pre-conflict level. Before the conflict, access to power was unreliable and varied greatly throughout the country. USAID worked to restore electricity to homes, public facilities, and business throughout Iraq. USAID has helped increase electrical generation to an average daily peak of approximately 4,500 MW. However, estimated total demand in Iraq is 8,500 MW and the looting of cables, destruction of hightension towers, and sabotage of fuel lines persist. Decades of operation without regular maintenance have resulted in increased breakdown and a need for significant rehabilitation.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been introducing innovative ways to solve electrical power issues and bridge the gap between supply and demand in Iraq's increasing quest for more electrical power. By early 2010 USACE has completed 614 electrical projects totaling more than $3 billion.

Attacks on Iraq's electricity infrastructure doubled in the third quarter of 2010 (from 16 to 32), marking the third consecutive quarterly rise in reported attacks. Examples included: July 8, western Baghdad - Two electricity transmission towers were destroyed. July 18, Anbar province - Three transmission towers were destroyed. August 12, Mosul - A successful attack on the Mosul Gas power plant stopped production there for two days, disrupting the national power grid. Other than the incident in Mosul, these attacks had minimal effect on the availability of electric power.

In the quarter ending October 2010, electricity supply on the national grid reached another post-invasion high, averaging 6,540 megawatts (MW), 5% above the previous quarter's level. Iraq's power plants produced an average of 5,894 MW, up 8% from last quarter - an increase partly attributable to increased outputs from hydroelectric plants. Iraq's electricity imports were down 13% from last quarter, averaging 646 MW, with 77% of these imports coming from neighboring Iran.

The main problem facing Iraq's electricity sector continued to be surging demand outpacing supply. In late August 2010, residents of the southern city of Nassiriya again took to the streets to protest the persistent lack of electricity. Riot police broke up this protest, which was reportedly significantly smaller than the June 2010 rioting that forced the resignation of the Minister of Electricity. US and GOI offi cials report that they are anticipating shortages in the summer of 2011 to be worse, unless the available electricity supply can somehow keep up with the ever-increasing demand.

After a steady climb from the beginning of 2008 through September 2009, Iraqs quarterly average supply of electricity to the grid remained relatively flat. By early 2011 the first quarters supply averaged 153,676 megawatt-hours (MWh) per day, or 6,403 MW a 1% increase from last quarter, as well as from the same quarter in 2010. Protests throughout Iraq this quarter included continuing complaints about unreliable power from the national grid. Th e available supply at the national level averaged about 56% of estimated demand, though the supply-demand imbalance varied among the provinces.

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Page last modified: 28-01-2014 19:09:03 ZULU