22 January 2010: Renewing and decentralising Iraq’s electricity

This week, the European Union and Iraq signed an agreement to strengthen their energy cooperation in areas such as natural gas, energy security and renewables (see EUbusiness: EU, Iraq sign energy agreement).

As everyone knows, Iraq has lots of oil. In 2007, 96% of the energy used in Iraq came from oil, 3.5% came from gas and only 0.2% from renewables. Therefore, Iraq has no ‘energy security’ problem, in the sense in which that term is usually used – the proportion of a country’s energy that comes from within its own borders. However, oil has undoubtedly been one (though not the only) cause of insecurity in Iraq. The US-led invasion in 2003 was largely motivated by the desire for access to oil. Many of the countries which opposed it, including China and France, had signed post-sanctions agreements with Saddam’s regime. The US and UK had not.
Much of Iraq’s electricity generating capacity was destroyed in the 1991 war which followed Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait:

Admirable efforts were made to raise the generating capacity from 1,800mW to around 4,000mW by 1993. It remained around this level – a far cry from the 10,000mw pre-war installed capacity – until the hostilities of 2003.

(See Middle East Economic Survey: Decentralizing And Restructuring of Iraq’s Electricity Supply System.)

Since 2003, there has been some progress in expanding electricity generation, but not nearly enough:

There is a clear need for more power stations, plant equipment, high voltage transmission, networks for distribution and portable generators. Electricity generation at its best meets half of estimated demand and actually fell below pre-war levels in 2006.

(See Power-technology.com: Rebuilding Iraq.).

The generating capacity being installed at present is still almost all large, centralised power stations. This has problems anywhere, since some electricity is lost in transmission and it is more complex to capture and use the heat. In Iraq, it has the additional problem of being more vulnerable to sabotage. Therefore, it would be more sensible to expand Iraq’s electricity generating capacity on a decentralised model.

Decentralised energy is not the same as renewable energy. Smaller combined-heat and-power (CHP) coal, gas or oil power stations could be constructed. However, Iraq has plenty of sunshine, so immense renewable potential.

The agreement promises to cover renewables, but the EU’s main interest in Iraq and energy concerns gas (as well as oil). The EU is looking for countries from which to buy natural gas so that it can reduce its dependence on Russia and Iraqi gas could be transported to Europe by means of the Nabucco pipeline through Turkey, if it is constructed. Gas is less damaging to the climate than coal or oil, but still damaging, and much more so than are renewables. Therefore, the EU must also make good its promise to renew Iraq’s electricity infrastructure – which could best be done through decentralised energy.

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