By Ahmed Tabaqchali, CIO of Asia Frontier Capital (AFC) Iraq Fund. This article was originally published by the LSE Middle East Centre.

Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraq’s Power Conundrum: How to Secure Reliable Electricity While Achieving Energy Independence

Iraq remains in a bind regarding how to secure energy independence within its geopolitical constraints – most pertinently the American sanctions on Iran. The US is continuing to maintain pressure on Baghdad by extending ‘final’ waivers on the purchase of Iranian gas for only another 30 days, as part of its new tougher stance.

Iraq, in response, could produce credible plans to eliminate its dependence on Iranian imports, which it accelerated with the approval in January of the fifth round of gas exploration contracts. However, achieving this would not end the need for Iranian imports, nor would it secure any kind of energy independence. More importantly, it will not change the shortages in the provision of electricity, which have served as a lightning rod for public anger over the failings of the post-2003 system.

Appreciating the dependence on Iran for the provision of electricity means delving into the extraordinary mess that is Iraq’s power grid, consisting of the power plants that generate electricity; transmission system that transport this electricity to population centres; and distribution networks which then distribute this electricity to end users. Decades of conflict have damaged most parts of the grid and, coupled with poor maintenance of the parts that escaped damage, this has rendered the grid impotent.

Rebuilding the grid post-2003 was hampered by the rolling dysfunction of successive governments, in which significant capital expenditures were neutralised by mismanagement, lack of coordination between ministries, and the county’s corrosive corruption. The public’s frustration over this impotence extends beyond the inadequate provisioning of electricity throughout the year, as the summer’s intense heat creates a particularly acute need for electricity, exposing the grid’s shortcomings.

These start at the generating stage with the gap between nameplate capacity, i.e. the maximum sustainable power output under ideal conditions, and actual output. While a gap always exists between these two, in 2018 the nameplate capacity was 30.3 gigawatts (GW), while effective capacity through the year was a mere 11.9 GW. A primary reason for this gap is the lack of appropriate fuel supply, in this case gas, which leads to substitutions by fuels such as crude or heavy fuel oil with the result that plants run at less than 60% of capacity – in 2018 only 62% of operating gas-powered plants actually used gas. Other reasons include poor maintenance and lack of cooling in high ambient heat. Moreover, up to 20% nameplate capacity in 2018 was non-operational.

In turn, this increases the gap between demand and supply – in 2018 average demand was 17.7 GW vs. effective generated power of 11.9 GW. But this gap is only part of the story, as the electricity generated to meet demand does not mean that it was actually delivered to end users. The total electricity generated in 2018 was 105.4 terawatt-hours (TWh), but only 43.7 TWh reached end users for a loss of 58.5%. Most of these losses take place at the distribution stage, with technical losses stemming from age, conflict damage, poor maintenance accounting for two thirds, and non-technical losses, mostly electricity theft, accounting for a third. Technical losses are natural, however they occur at an extremely high rate in Iraq, as do non-technical losses. Stolen electricity – still consumed but not billed – is estimated at 17 TWh, and so the electricity delivered would rise to 61 TWh, equating to a loss of 42.2%. This dynamic can be seen below.

Figure 1: Comparison between electricity demand and supply, 2010-18

The increase in losses from 2014 onwards can be attributed to the ISIS conflict, which damaged 20% of the transmission system and 5.0 GW of generating capacity. 2019 saw meaningful improvement as effective capacity increased from 11.9 GW to 14.3 GW, and crucially during the summer months peak generation was 19.3 GW vs. peak demand of 27.5 GW. This gap of 8.2 GW has narrowed from 2018’s 10.0 GW gap when peak supply was 16.5 GW vs. peak demand of 26.5 GW.

Electricity generated from Iranian electricity and gas imports accounted for 20.7% of that generated throughout 2019, and probably a much higher percentage during the peak summer months. These contributions from electricity imports from 2010 and gas imports from 2017 can be seen below.

Figure 2: Iranian contribution to Iraq’s energy requirements between 2010-19

The importance of Iranian electricity imports as a percentage of the total have steadily decreased, even though they increased in absolute levels; nevertheless, the decline in summer of 2018 was large enough to ignite the demonstrations in Basra. Imports in 2019 returned to the trend line and averaged 1.1 GW for the year. Plans for other regional imports include 0.5 GW to be imported from Kuwait by the end of 2020, rising to 1.9 GW over subsequent years, including planned imports from Jordan and Turkey.

Iranian gas imports were 7.0 billion cubic meters (BCM) in 2019, up from 4.1 BCM in 2018, and accounted for 31% of total gas consumed – up from 24% in 2018. Plans for increased domestic production include increasing captured flared gas to 16-19 BCM by end of 2021 from 12 BCM in 2019. Additionally, the fifth round of gas contracts call for replacing Iranian imports in three years, i.e. generating 7.0-10.0 BCM over that period from the current 3.5 BCM.

Assuming that the government executes these plans, in three years’ time this would replace the current electricity produced by Iranian imports. But demand is set to increase by 20% from current levels, meaning that the current the gap between supply and demand would increase by up to 20%. Moreover, planned capacity additions require additional fuel, which under existing plans is earmarked to replace imported gas. However, maintaining Iranian imports would significantly decrease their importance in power generation from the current 20.7%, and in the process Iraq would add meaningful capacity to address demand.

The goal posts are moving much faster than Iraq’s ability to approach them, and as such the US’s insistence on eliminating Iranian imports, far from achieving energy independence for Iraq, would instead exacerbate its energy vulnerabilities. Compounding these vulnerabilities is the massive investment spending needed to expand the grid’s capacity, currently unaddressed in the government’s structurally unbalanced budget, but which is ever more critical following the collapse of oil prices.

Iraq’s pathway out of this predicament, even at much higher oil prices, involves electricity tariff reform and the removal of energy subsidies, both the source of monumental waste and substantial market distortions. However, this requires a popular buy-in and for the increasingly alienated population to renew their belief in the post-2003 system’s legitimacy. It is here where the international community can help Iraq achieve energy independence.

Sources

The figures and charts used in the article are the author’s estimates, and are based on data from the Ministry of Electricity’s annual reports and conference presentations, the IEA, BP, MEES, Oxford Energy, and publicly available news sources. However, all errors and omissions are the author’s own.

The data used in the article exclude electricity demand and generation in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI). However, figures for locally produced and consumed gas include the KRI, and as such the Iranian-origin percentages of total gas consumed would be somewhat higher than the 31% and 24% used if the KRI was excluded.

Disclaimer: Ahmed Tabaqchali’s comments, opinions and analyses are personal views and are intended to be for informational purposes and general interest only and should not be construed as individual investment advice or a recommendation or solicitation to buy, sell or hold any fund or security or to adopt any investment strategy. It does not constitute legal or tax or investment advice. The information provided in this material is compiled from sources that are believed to be reliable, but no guarantee is made of its correctness, is rendered as at publication date and may change without notice and it is not intended as a complete analysis of every material fact regarding Iraq, the region, market or investment.

 

A 29 MW gas-fuelled power plant supplied by the technology group Wärtsilä to the Umm Qasr Ports Authority Zone in Basra, Iraq, commenced commercial operations in February. The plant ensures availability of a reliable supply of electricity to the port’s operations, which had previously been subject to frequent power interruptions.

The Wärtsilä plant was ordered in October 2018 by Lebanon-based Butec, the engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) provider for the project. Butec was contracted by Prime Metro Power Holdings (PMPH), the company having a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with the General Company for the Ports of Iraq, an Iraqi Ministry of Transport entity.

Wärtsilä delivered the plant on a fast-track basis, and the project was completed in an exceptionally short period of time, despite delays caused by the ongoing political situation in the country.

Guillaume Lucci, President and COO of PMPH, said:

We have been able to leverage the local natural gas resources to develop a first class, state-of-the-art power plant facility that adds a vital power generation infrastructure and services to the state of Iraq. The completion of this project in less than one year is a significant milestone in our strategy to quickly develop the needed power infrastructure.

“We are pleased to have worked with Wärtsilä on this project, and we are certain that the quality and performance of the engine will be an asset over the lifecycle of the plant.

Alexandre Eykerman, Energy Business Director, Middle East, Wärtsilä Energy Business, said:

“The fast-starting, flexible operation of the Wärtsilä engines was a decisive consideration in the award of this contract. The plant can run fewer engines when less power is demanded and start the additional engines only when and as needed. This provides a cost-effective, efficient, and highly reliable solution that will greatly enhance the port’s operations.”

The Umm Qasr plant operates on three Wärtsilä 34SG gas engines, which deliver reliable baseload power on a 24/7 basis. Wärtsilä has also signed a maintenance agreement, the scope of which includes field service, and engine maintenance planning based on remote monitoring and asset diagnostics. For this, the plant is already connected to the Wärtsilä Digital Expertise Centre located in Dubai.

In addition to providing cost predictability, the agreement ensures the safety, reliability, and efficiency of the plant’s operations. Wärtsilä will have technical advisors stationed on site for mutually agreed periods of time to supervise the plant’s performance.

This is the first phase of an overall power supply project that will be expanded to increase the availability of electricity throughout the region. It represents Wärtsilä’s first gas-fired power plant in Iraq.

(Source: Wärtsilä)

Prime Power Middle East (PPME), a wholly owned subsidiary of Prime Metro Power Holdings Corporation, has commenced operation of its power plant in Umm Qasr, Basra.

The power plant started its commercial operation last Sunday, 09 February 2020, and is designed to deliver base load of 24/7 power to the Umm Qasr Ports Authority Zone.

The gas-fired power plant is equipped with three latest version Wartsila W20V34SG engines with fast start capability able to provide power to the GCPI grid within 30 seconds. It is fully automated with the latest control system allowing stable electricity generation to the Umm Qasr Port grid.

Prime Power started discussions with the Iraqi government in 2016 in light of the growing power shortages. In May 2018, Prime Power signed a 23-year Power Purchase Agreement with the Genral Company of Ports or Iraq (GCPI).

Benefiting from natural gas supply from a specially built 15km natural gas pipeline, the Umm Qasr Port Power Plant is the first phase of a multi-phase development program that starts with its current Phase 1 operational capacity of 29.3MW reaching total generation capacity 68.4MW in Phase 2, with room to increase capacity up to 150MW in the coming years.

The power plant operation will be integrated with a distribution system to support the port industrial zone and surrounding cities.

Enrique Razon Jr., Prime Power Chairman and CEO, said:

We are delighted to start our greenfield power plant in Umm Qasr Port. It is a testament to the potential of Iraq.

“Under a join operation framework with GCPI we were able to leverage the Basra Governorate’s natural gas resources to develop a first class state of the art facility that adds vital power generation infrastructure and services to state of Iraq.

“We see this plant as the first phase of many as we continue to be long term investors in Iraq and to contribute to its economic and social development.

In spite of some of geopolitical and social challenges Iraq is going through, the plant was built within record time and ahead of schedule.

Guillaume Lucci, Prime Power President and COO, said:

We are pleased to have delivered such critical infrastructure and services to GCPI and the Port of Umm Qasr.

“The completion of Phase 1, in less than one year, is a significant milestone in Prime Power’s strategy to build up an infrastructure portfolio that delivers fast and critical investments to regions in need.

“We will continue to rest on our strong presence on the ground as we work hand in hand with the government and the communities we serve.

Moving forward, PPME will continue to improve the electricity situation at the port, and is looking forward to launching the Phase 2 in the last quarter of 2020.

Prime Metro Power will continue to aim for an even greater contribution to the Iraq power market, and continue the boundless use of economical and sustainable power generation facilities.

(Source: ICTSI)

By Bryant Harris for Al Monitor. Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

Iraq likely to continue importing Iranian natural gas under US waiver renewal

Iraqi officials have indicated that the United States is likely to renew a key Iran sanctions waiver that will allow Baghdad to continue importing Iranian natural gas to fuel its electricity needs, the AP reported.

The three-month waiver is set to expire Thursday.

Iraq relies on Iranian imports to meet the lion’s share of its electricity needs in the face of shortages that have helped provoke widespread protests in recent years.

Click here to read the full article.

(Picture credit: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

By John Lee.

The CEO of Germany’s Siemens has said that US President Donald Trump would support his company’s role in reconstruction projects in countries like Iraq.

Joe Kaeser (pictured) made the comment to CNBC at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.

Following a hotly-contested competition in 2018, it was agreed that Siemens and rival GE would share the work to upgrade Iraq’s electricity system, with GE supplying 14 gigawatts (GW), and Siemens 11 GW.

Siemens employs around 60,000 workers in the US.

(Source: CNBC)

By John Lee.

The head of Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI) has reportedly said that the bank would stop processing payments for Iranian gas imports if a US sanctions exemption expires next month.

Faisal al-Haimus told AFP:

“As a bank, the most important thing we have is that we are compliant (with international regulations). That’s why people trust us.”

Iraq relies heavily on Iran to support its struggling electricity sector.

When the United States imposed sanctions on Iran’s energy sector in 2018, it granted Iraq a series of temporary waivers to allow it to buy gas from Iran.

More here.

(Source: AFP)

By John Lee.

Iraq has reportedly signed a deal with the Gulf Cooperation Council Interconnection Authority (GCCIA) to import electricity at a rate of 500 megawatts of electricity from Sunni Arab gulf countries before next summer, Iraqi Ministry of Electricity spokesperson a told state newspaper on Thurday.

According to Rudaw, the GCCIA will fund the cost of building the two 400-KV lines, which will run for 300 kilometers across Iraq and Kuwait.

(Source: Rudaw)

Germany’s MAN Energy Solutions is providing a drink can factory of the Royal Can Making Company (RCMC) in Iraq with six MAN 18V32/40 CD engines, with a total capacity of 53 megawatts (MW).

The recently constructed power plant in Baghdad, the capital of Iraq, will supply power to the RCMC manufacturing site and also to other nearby industrial plants.

Waldemar Wiesner, Head of Region MEA (Middle-East Africa), Power Plant Sales, at MAN Energy Solutions, explained:

Iraq is a country in the process of change. After the armed conflicts of the past, the World Bank is forecasting economic growth of 6.5% for this year…

“Providing local businesses with a reliable energy supply is the prerequisite for economic growth in Iraq.

“Our localized power plant solutions ensure the operation of industrial plants and make customers, such as the Royal Can Making Company, independent of the national power grid.

The new power plant guarantees a reliable energy supply for the RCMC drink can factory and therefore enables high utilization of production capacities, as the plant is no longer affected by fluctuations in the national grid. The company manufactures more than two billion drink cans every year.

Increased presence in the Persian Gulf

This year, MAN Energy Solutions has already commissioned two power plants in the Iraqi cities of Samawah and Basra.

We are proud that the Royal Can Making Company is another customer from the Persian Gulf region which is relying on energy solutions provided by MAN Energy Solutions. In total, we are now supplying more than 200 MW of power to rebuild the country’s infrastructure,” said Wiesner.

(Source: MAN Energy Solutions)

Power Grids of Iran, Syria to Be Connected via Iraq: Minister

Iranian Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian said his ministry plans to connect the country’s national grid to Syria through Iraq as Tehran and Damascus signed a preliminary agreement in this regard.

Speaking on the sidelines of a ceremony to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between the Iranian Energy Ministry and the Syrian Electricity Ministry in Tehran on Saturday, Ardakanian pointed to the synchronization of the power grids of Iran and Iraq on Friday and said, “We intend to use the existing infrastructure to connect the Iranian and Syrian power grids via Iraq.”

The Iranian minister added that in the near future, the electricity transmission between Iran and Syria would become possible via Iraq.

“We plan to create the necessary infrastructure for the implementation of this program within the next three years so that we witness the synchronization of the power grids of Iran and Syria,” he added.

The power grids of Iran and Iraq were synchronized in a ceremony held on Friday attended by Ardakanian and the Iraqi deputy minister of electricity.

Earlier this year, the two countries had reached an agreement to connect their power grids by the end of 2019.

Speaking to Tasnim, Iranian Deputy Energy Minister Homayoun Ha’eri said with the synchronization of the national grids, the two countries would witness the increase of electricity exchanges.

According to Ardakanian, Iran’s exports of electricity to neighboring states, particularly to Iraq, reached a record high last year.

Ardakanian and his Iraqi counterpart Luay al-Khatteeb signed two memorandums of understanding (MoUs) and a contract in February to boost cooperation between the two countries in the electricity industry.

On October 16, a US State Department spokesman said Washington has once again exempted Iraq from its sanctions against Iran, allowing the Arab country to continue gas and electricity imports from the Islamic Republic for another four-month period.

Power cuts in Iraq have often prompted protests against the authorities. Iran supplies enough gas to power 2,500 megawatts (MW), as well as providing Iraq with 1,200 MW in direct power supplies, according to media reports.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)

Iran connected its national grid to Iraq on Friday in a bid to help the Arab country reduce its power outages.

The power grids of Iran and Iraq were synchronized in a ceremony held on Friday with Iranian Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian and the Iraqi deputy minister of electricity.

Earlier this year, the two countries had reached an agreement to connect their power grids by the end of 2019.

Speaking to Tasnim, Iranian Deputy Energy Minister Homayoun Ha’eri said with the synchronization of the national grids, the two countries would witness the increase of electricity exchanges.

According to Ardakanian, Iran’s exports of electricity to neighboring states, particularly to Iraq, reached a record high last year.

Ardakanian and his Iraqi counterpart Luay al-Khatteeb signed two memorandums of understanding (MoUs) and a contract in February to boost cooperation between the two countries in the electricity industry.

On October 16, a US State Department spokesman said Washington has once again exempted Iraq from its sanctions against Iran, allowing the Arab country to continue gas and electricity imports from the Islamic Republic for another four-month period.

Power cuts in Iraq have often prompted protests against the authorities. Iran supplies enough gas to power 2,500 megawatts (MW), as well as providing Iraq with 1,200 MW in direct power supplies, according to media reports.

(Source: Tasnim, under Creative Commons licence)