With an infrastructure crippled by international sanctions and three Gulf Wars, Iraq's electricity grid continues to mount a recovery from years of neglect and corruption.
Current power output is more than double the prewar production of just 3,300 megawatts (MW) before the US-led invasion of 2003. The current level of generation approaches the peak 1990 production level of 9,000 MW. However, demand over the last two decades has more than tripled.
The current thirst for electricity, 14,000 MW, far outstrips the present supply of around 8,500 MW. A growing consumer economy has stimulated the need for more power plants to supply computers in the workplace and air conditioning units during brutally hot summers - when the outages are most severe.
Using official data from the Iraqi government, these chart display average usage statistics from a regular Thursday (work day) and Friday (weekend) in early March. The numbers, while debated by some government critics, can explain some of the issues Iraq is facing.
The power generated by the public, national grid is complemented by electricity imported directly from Turkey and Iran. In addition, private local diesel generators for households and neighbourhoods are crucial sources of energy when municipal lines are powered down.
The figures for Iraq are separate from the numbers for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).
|Statistics from Iraqi Ministry of Electricity|
|19h00||Peak time of day|
|8,130||Total load from all governorates (MW)|
|6,637||Power supplied by ministry (MW)|
|1,493||Imported electricity (MW)|
|12,596||Total demand (MW)|
|Population||Governorate||Daily peak consumption (MW)|
A lasting solution to Iraq's energy shortages is elusive, but involves a creative mix of attempted fixes every day by individuals and businesses, as well as a long term plan to build more power plants to serve a burgeoning population and fulfill its energy desires.
We sent the following SMS, translated into Arabic, to a group of randomised subscribers on Asia Cell and Zain networks -
"Al Jazeera wants to know: How many hours do you have electricity per day in March, and how do power outages affect your life? Please give your name and location in the response."
Largely clustered in the central and northern areas of Iraq, the 70 most substantial messages appear on the map below. Lighter shading indicates reports of the most daily power availability.
As with the data in the left panel, the respondents confirm that the Kurdistan region has a better record of providing reliable electricity. The combined output of the three Kurdish provinces is more than 3,000 MW.
In addition to recently becoming independent from Baghdad's electricity resources, the KRG also supplies some electricity during peak summer months to areas of adjacent Ninawa (Mosul), At-Ta'mim (Kirkuk) and Diyala provinces. Kurdish Iraqis in cities such as Khanaqin have benefited from the north's transmission of power to these disputed border areas.
It doesn't disconnect but the electricity lines are bad and worn out after more than 40 years. They need maintenance.- Rana
It disconnects for 19 hours. The situation is miserable. Electricity is almost non-existent. It's a poor situation and our lives are in danger.- Idris
Power disconnects for roughly 7 hours and affects my work.- Ra'ed
Electricity is good and doesn't disconnect at all.- Enas
Al Jazeera spoke with Mussab al-Mudaris, spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Electricity:
Q: The First Gulf War, sanctions, and the Second Gulf War explain power problems in the past. But what is the government's explanation for why there are such serious shortages now?
A: The production capacity back then - before April 2003 - was about 3,500 MW. And the power production needed was estimated to be 7,000 to 8,000 MW. Baghdad enjoyed most of the electricity, given the fact it is the capital. And at the same time, almost all provinces were deprived of electricity. After April 2003, there were new projects added to the power grid but when we reached production capacity in 2005 of about 4,500 MW, the estimated power production required also jumped higher.
The production capacity back then - before April 2003 - was about 3,500 MW. And the power production needed was estimated to be 7,000 to 8,000 MW. Baghdad enjoyed most of the electricity, given the fact it is the capital. And at the same time, almost all provinces were deprived of electricity. After April 2003, there new projects added to the power grid but when we reached production capacity in 2005 of about 4,500 MW, the estimated power production required also jumped higher.
As we reached 2013, we had power production of approximately 8,500 MW but the power needed is up to 16,000 MW. This is due to the increase of living standards for the Iraqi citizen.
Plus, there is poor planning operations. The Ministry of Electricity works alone. There is no cooperation from other ministries. The borders were widely open and businessmen were importing bad electrical appliances. During that time, the National Center for Quality Control [started to] restrict businessmen through strict laws to import only the good electrical appliances with specific standards.
But as we see now the market is flooded with bad electrical appliances which consume more electricity than they are meant for. So that really affects the power grid. Also the haphazard housing is affecting us as well. In Baghdad only, we have 550 unofficial neighborhoods - also agricultural lands in which people were forced to avoid the housing crisis. The ministry follows a set or procedures and rules in establishing power lines and thus cannot provide such areas with power, unless they are recognised by the Baghdad municipality.
Q: How does the current electrical infrastructure stack up to services that existed in 2003?
A: The American forces in 2003 did not target power plants but rather the lines of power - due to their low-altitude military aviation by helicopters and other planes. But these lines were restored to service. The American forces also have built some of the manufacturing power plants with their engineers. And they also built some small power plants to provide their military bases with electricity.
We as the Ministry of Electricity were all the time targeted by insurgents sabotaging our centres and in some areas the government at that time had no jurisdiction on where we could have our own project sites and power plants. So after the American forces pushed back insurgents and cleaned the area, they would construct their own military bases. And in return, the armed groups were constantly targeting these sites. Thus all the time our power plants were affected and we had many power plants that were affected badly, like Yousefiyah power plant project south of Baghdad.
Q: Does the government have a load-shedding schedule for rolling blackouts?
A: There is a mechanism to distribute electricity across the country proportional to the population in each province. We have the National Control Center for Electricity, and we have there a daily-updated database. This database depends on each production capacity for each power plant. The production capacity for each power plant will be transferred through the power lines to the manufacturing power plants then to the secondary power plants.
There is full monitoring for the distribution of power inside each province. There are some provinces which have a production power plant that will exceed its quota by taking extra quota. Taking this extra quota will affect the other provinces' quotas. We have about 14 control centers run by the Ministry of Electricity that we have signed contracts to be built - so we can overcome the shortage of power.
Q: At what point in the future does the government hope Iraqi electricity demand will be met by supply?
A: We do admit that the current electrical infrastructure is old and in some points it needs renovations. Our power plants still depend on crude oil to run and some other power plants rely on gas. Sometimes the crude oil or gas tankers will get delayed for the refuelling schedule, thus affecting the workflow of the power plants. Most major power plants existed even before 2003.
After 2003, we have had projects to build new ones, but the construction of these power plants needs much time. By the time they open - [targeting] specific power production limits - we will find ourselves in need of upgrading the rate of production as the people's demand for electricity goes ever higher.
Q: What is being done to prepare for high demand in summer 2013?
A: The Ministry of Electricity was able to start working effectively in 2008, so it started to make contracts with major power companies which had been afraid to come to Iraq when the security situation was dangerous. Now we have about 42 projects in power production: transferring power and distribution. All 42 projects have reached between 50-90 percent of completion. Every month we have about two power plants joining the national grid with electricity through 2014.
Our plan is to have - before the summer of 2013 - about 12,000 MW of power production. That is half the production of summer 2011, and thus it will have a positive impcat on the hours of electricity given to the people. We always assure and emphasise that by the end of 2013 electricity will reach 14,000 MW, and by the end of 2014, we will exceed power production of 20,000 MW.