The Iraq Ministry of Electricity Administered the Country's Generation, transmission and distribution before the 1980s by building all major projects to the specifications of a number of international suppliers. The control on equipment specifications and approved manufacturers, however, became almost nonexistent following the first and second Gulf wars and subsequent economic sanctions that were enforced. Energy production in Iraq was sufficient to satisfy domestic and industrial consumption until 1990.

SYSTEM STATUS

The political change since then has had a devastating impact on the transmission and distribution infrastructure. The lack of systematic maintenance and the general neglect, which continues to date, has resulted in the need to rebuild these networks and establish system management and control disciplines. A further major drawback has been terrorism, resulting in the destruction of high-voltage transmission systems. The replacement of damaged towers and conductor stringing is a costly exercise that also causes extended circuit and customer supply outages.

The majority of the power plants in Iraq were built between the mid-1970s and 1980s, with a few small gas-fired plants commissioned in 2003. The majority of the existing power plants are thermal plants that use crude oil supported by gas-fired and hydro plants. Many plants now operate at half their initial design capacity. As the estimated system demand requirement is 5000 MW, with an effective generation output of some 2000 MW, the Ministry of Electricity (ME), which is responsible for the national grid, cannot meet the simultaneous demand of all provinces.

Therefore, the major problem prevalent in Iraq is three-fold:

  • Shortage of available generating capacity
  • Lack of distribution system management
  • No data about energy consumption.

No progress has been made during the past decade to resolve the shortage of energy, but following the political changes over the past four years, the residents look forward to a solution that will offer a continuous and uninterrupted power supply.

CUSTOMER SOLUTIONS

More than 70% of residents who reside in major cities own generators of various sizes in order to overcome the problems associated with interrupted power supplies from the distribution network. A further source of energy is available from the generation plant to supply a group of people through loose electrical cables installed without authorization on hydro poles. This practice is common in many neighborhoods where secondary lines are sold to consumers and can provide a private independent supply of 20 A. Therefore, some customers now have three sources of supply that do not satisfy their minimum daily energy requirements.

Customers connected with these three sources of energy have a circuit breaker for each supply, so the services do not operate in parallel. The cost of energy available from private generators is extremely high as the diesel fuel required is purchased daily on the black market. In some cases, districts are left without any source of power for more than 20 hours a day, especially in the summer season when temperatures can rise to above 55°C (131°F). Currently the rising temperatures have already started to be felt by the nation with an interrupted supply of just 5 hours per day, and the people have given up trying to figure out who can be held accountable for this. It is common for Iraqis who travel outside the country to ask their family and loved ones in Iraq, “How is the electricity these days?”

Due to the harsh political circumstances, many areas in Iraq are not connected to the distribution network. It is ironic that gas is not always available in a country believed to have the second-largest oil reserve in the world. In these areas, local residents have had no faith in any government for the past 30 years. There also have been no attempts to provide electricity or develop infrastructure in rural areas. Basically, these people live below the poverty line, considering they are unable to operate or use any electrical equipment.

SUPPLY CHALLENGES

Although Iraq has a vast wealth of natural gas, the State Gas Company consists of run-down gas pipes that are generally in bad condition or obsolete, and the gas available is not suitable for use without processing at generating plants. The continuing decline of gas pressure, which was originally supplying the thermal power plants at some 40 bar (4 MPa or 580 psi), has resulted in damage to the gas turbines. For example, the ME has suspended gas supplies to a packaged unit, further reducing the output of the power plant.

There have been many steps taken, financed through grants and funds donated by developed nations, to try to improve the energy sector in Iraq. However, many of these initiatives have failed to operate, because the core objectives were not evaluated and, in many cases, the prime motive was profitability rather than immediate benefits. In addition to a shortage of capable and experienced staff in the ME, corruption is reported to be a major issue within the existing management structure.

In a recent Iraqi customer survey, in Baghdad 98%of users agreed to pay for a reliable supply of electricity. Some 50% of those surveyed owned diesel fuel generators and would be able to afford the unit price proposed by the ME. Conversely, many customers would not be in a position to afford the tariff increase. At present, 1 liter (0.26 gal) of diesel fuel costs approximately 600 Iraqi dinars (US$0.50) — a cost that only a limited number of households can afford.

LACK OF CUSTOMER SERVICE

Until 1990, the Iraqi electricity industry was well managed with sufficient capacity to meet the demand and an adequate form of customer billing. However, since 2003, the ME has been unable to calculate or provide an accurate account of actual energy consumption. The provider has been unable to bill customers for energy usage because of the lack of a management system and because the ME has no means to disconnect customers; the majority of customers do not pay for their energy. Even if disconnection powers were in place, customers would probably reconnect their service to the network following disconnection. Therefore, the ME needs to take steps to establish an accounts collection system and launch a customer education program on energy consumption, which, if successful, could increase the availability of supplies and reduce the length of the scheduled disconnections.

For example, when supplies through the national grid are restored following a programmed supply blackout, customers immediately energize their air-conditioning systems, operate equipment and generally use the available energy to maximize on the short-term benefit. Customers perceive the availability of electrical energy as a scarce commodity that must be used when made available; therefore, customers lack knowledge on the benefits of energy efficiency and conservation. It should be noted that even the current kilowatt-hour tariff used for revenue collection is insufficient to meet the financial obligations necessary to fund the upgrade and infrastructure developments.

DISTRIBUTION NETWORK DESIGN

The existing transmission system has operational voltages of 400 kV and 132 kV, while for the distribution network 33 kV and 11 kV are used. In 2003, National Petroleum Services Co. (NPSC) was awarded a design-build contract to install new 11-kV overhead distribution networks in four residential suburbs as part of the U.S. government-funded reconstruction program. The suburbs were in the Al Hilla Province to the south of Baghdad in the towns of Al Askary, Al Mahaweel, Al Noor and Al Mashroa.

Due to the prevailing lack of security during the interim period of Iraqi government, there was a lack of law and order. Hence, NPSC was exposed to areas of high risk as the new 11-kV circuits to be erected were located in residential areas outside and beyond the main cities where law and order was not enforced at that time, the security situation was extremely poor and terrorism such as roadside bombings and random shootings were common. On a positive note, these are improved today.

It was necessary to gain and establish the confidence of the local residents and win their trust. The NPSC construction team spent the initial weeks building rapport, as the residents were judged to be the best bet to protect the working crew.

Many minor non-skilled activities such as land clearance, vegetation removal and so forth were given to the local labor resources in the neighborhood to start building a trusting relationship that would continue for nine months. Residents were somewhat skeptical of NPSC's intentions and why the refurbishment was proceeding during such a period of political instability.

In the absence of geographical and existing mains records for the municipality, the first phase of the project was to survey the streets and identify the pole positions for the proposed overhead lines. This task was made more difficult as residents have expanded their properties, transgressing the state-owned pavements and roads. These areas are considered to be suburban farmlands and are not subject to planning regulations, so it was necessary to gain the confidence and trust of the local residents.

One of the four circuits to be rebuilt in a heavily congested residential area had to be erected without disrupting the supplies afforded by the existing 11-kV overhead line. Apart from the lack of records for the existing lines and cables, there was evidence of illegal abstraction with customers tapping the existing circuit. Site assessments that included recording the number of customers and an estimation of energy consumption preceded the design for the 11-kV overhead lines with 120 mm2/20 mm2 (0.186 inches2/0.031 inches2)ACSR conductors, the 0.4-kV low-voltage overhead network using aerial bunched conductors and the location of the 11-kV low-voltage package substations. In Iraq, the normal practice was to install outdoor transformers, so the use of packaged substations marked the introduction of new technology. The network, based on British standards, was designed as a traditional radial 11-kV overhead line circuit to be routed on the outer perimeter of the villages, thereby affording an improved level of supply reliability.

REFURBISHING THE DISTRIBUTION NETWORK

After completion of the site survey, network design and procurement of materials and equipment, the items were imported into Iraq through neighboring Turkey and Kuwait. The packaged substations, supplied by Siemens, were shipped directly to Iraq and stored at designated storage locations until the site foundations were ready to receive the equipment. The substations contain an 11-kV/0.4-kV 1000-kVA transformer, 11-kV ring main unit and metal-clad circuit breakers with various current ratings to protect the low-voltage feeders.

Local residents remained skeptical until materials started arriving on-site. This proved to be the turning point for the NPSC field staff with the community, which was offering cooperation and support coupled with gestures of goodwill in the form of meals for the teams. At this stage, residents were willing to express their appreciation that such a project was being undertaken at a time when security was poor and the country was in a political power vacuum.

The ME retained responsibility for the customer-service connections between the aerial bunched conductor network that was strung on the same supports as the 11-kV overhead lines and the customer's termination. The duration of this project was 11 months, and the project was successfully completed and commissioned within this time period without compromise to the quality and safety. The project was successful and a modern uncompromised network was installed in four suburbs.

STEPS TO THE FUTURE

The experience gained from this project on the refurbishment of the distribution network in Iraq has led to the identification of core reasons and factors that many Iraqis now consider a major drawback affecting their daily lives, namely the lack of an uninterrupted supply of electrical energy.

To resolve the current situation, action needs to be taken to implement the following five solutions.

  1. Power production needs to be increased to at least 5000 MW. This could be achieved in the short term by constructing several 100-MW stations, rather than larger-capacity plants, which would take longer to build and have a higher financial burden on the government budget. The power plant capacity recommended is judged to be adequate for the current situation, with plants being designed to use the widely available crude oil.

  2. A customer guidance program on energy issues should be established. User attitudes about cost, energy efficiency and conservation need to be refined.

  3. A training program for the local field staff is needed.

  4. The existing extra-high-voltage/high-voltage and high-voltage/low-voltage substations need to be refurbished.

  5. A revenue-collection system needs to be implemented.

These solutions would help reduce the pressure on the national grid and prevent the state from seeking alternative solutions such as importing electrical energy from neighboring countries. A secure and reliable electricity supply is a basic provision that many Iraqis hope to see in the near future.


Taymor Farage received his secondary education in the United Kingdom and studied electronic engineering at Kingston University before completing a marketing program at the School of Business Management at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. Farage started his career as a personal banking representative for a Canadian financial institution. Currently, Farage is the managing director at National Petroleum Services Co., which is involved in electrical contracting in Iraq serving the electrical and oil sectors. taymor@npsci.com