Iraq electricity sector makes slow progress

9 May 2024

Latest news from Iraq's power and water sectors:

> Iraq plans new Baiji power plant
> Decision imminent on Iraq waste-to-energy project
> Iraq discusses nuclear projects with global watchdog
Siemens Energy and SLB sign Iraq flare gas-to-power deal
PowerChina in talks for Basra desalination plant
US seeks firms for Baghdad power plant package
Iraq plans green hydrogen project at refinery
Iraq approves long-term grid expansion


In late March, Iraq’s Electricity Ministry struck a five-year gas supply deal with National Iranian Gas Company for up to 50 million cubic metres a day (cm/d), contingent on the needs of Iraqi power stations, in exchange for oil and gasoline.

The deal offers a lifeline to Iraq’s deteriorating electricity sector and replaces an existing agreement whereby contractual volumes were theoretically set at 70 million cm/d for summer and 45 million cm/d for winter.

The two countries signed the deal following nearly three months of longer-than-usual power outages in Iraq, and after Baghdad settled part of the multibillion-dollar debt it owes Iran. The power cuts occurred due to a drastic reduction in Irani gas supply, which dipped to 10 million cm/d and wiped out 4GW from Iraq’s grid.

The deal is a compromise for both countries. It allows Iraq some breathing space to implement projects to reduce its dependence on Iran’s gas exports – a long-running and elusive objective among Iraq’s policymakers and its allies in the GCC states and the US.

The crisis should prompt Iraq to push ahead with projects to boost domestic gas production and build solar power plants, according to the Electricity Ministry.

Supply and demand mismatch

There has been a persistent mismatch between supply and demand in Iraq’s electricity sector, with peak demand during the summer months outstripping available capacity by a sizeable margin.

In recent years, the deficit has returned during the winter when heating requirements rise.

With a few exceptions, however, the procurement process or negotiations for additional generation capacity have been proceeding slowly, leaving a gap that is typically addressed by diesel generators.

Iraq aspires to build 12,000MW of solar capacity by the end of the decade, which is nearly half its known available capacity today.

The Electricity Ministry has signed deals with several companies to develop sizeable solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity over the past two to three years in line with this objective. Yet, despite regular pronouncements that the construction phase for these projects is about to start, none have reached final investment decisions (FIDs) or the construction phase so far.

The Electricity Ministry remains the dominant client for these projects, although the National Investment Commission (NIC) has been an active participant, particularly in bilateral or public-private partnership projects.

For example, the UAE’s Masdar signed a deal to develop 2GW of solar capacity in Iraq with the NIC. The commission is also procuring a contract to develop the country’s first waste-to-energy (WTE) project in coordination with the Municipality of Baghdad, the Electricity Ministry and the Environment Ministry.

Located in the Al Nahrawan area of Baghdad Governorate, the planned WTE project will have the capacity to treat 3,000 tonnes of waste a day and generate nearly 80 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity.

Other companies that have committed to develop solar PV projects in Iraq include Power China, which has pledged to develop solar PV projects with a combined total capacity of 2GW, and France’s Total Energies, which has committed to build a 1,000MW solar farm in Artawi.

The solar project in Artawi is a small part of a $27bn package that TotalEnergies is developing in partnership with QatarEnergy. The package involves the development of a common seawater supply project and oil and gas fields in Iraq.

Awarded projects

As earlier cited, there are some exceptions to the endemic start-stop mode for Iraq’s power generation and distribution projects.

For example, Germany’s Siemens Energy and the US-based GE have ongoing projects that include retrofitting or upgrading existing gas turbine power stations or building new substations as part of agreements to help rebuild Iraq and support its goal of reducing carbon emissions.

Earlier this month, the Electricity Ministry signed a preliminary agreement with Germany’s Siemens Energy and US firm SLB, formerly Schlumberger, to explore the development of a power generation plant using flare gas.

According to Siemens Energy Middle East managing director Dietmar Siersdorfer, the planned flare gas-to-power project in southern Iraq will help reduce carbon dioxide emissions and capture value from gas that would otherwise be wasted.

The planned flare gas-to-power plant could have a generation capacity of up to 2,000MW.

In January this year, China-based Oriental International is understood to have signed a contract to convert a single-cycle unit at the Baghdad South power plant complex into a combined-cycle power plant.

In April, the Electricity Ministry awarded another Chinese company, China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC), a second year of operation and maintenance contracts for the Salah Al Din gas-fired power plant.

CMEC was awarded the estimated $1bn contract to build the power plant in northern Iraq in 2011. After a series of delays and challenges, including the Isis uprising, the two 630MW capacity units began operating last year.

In December last year, Siemens Energy also signed a contract to deliver five high-voltage substations on a turnkey basis in Iraq. The 400-kilovolt substations, each with a capacity of 1,500MW, will be installed in Baghdad, Diyala, Najaf, Karbala and Basra.

Similarly, the US’s preoccupation with helping wean Iraq off Iran’s gas and electricity imports has spurred projects to interconnect Iraq’s grid with its neighbour Saudi Arabia through the GCC grid and Jordan.

In October last year, the governor of Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, Prince Saud Bin Naif Bin Abdulaziz, inaugurated the GCC grid's Iraq connection, which had been under development for several years. The 295-kilometre power transmission network will have a total transmission capacity of 1,800MW, with an initial phase expected to supply 500MW of electricity to Iraq.

Future projects

In February this year, Electricity Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Mousa said the government had approved funds for the long-term plans to expand the country’s power transmission and distribution network with Siemens Energy’s help.

Mousa said the ministry “received funds for long-term plans to develop the electricity sector in 2023 … the three-year budget approved in 2023 also includes funds this year and in 2025”. 

In early May, it was reported that the Electricity Ministry held discussions with Qatar’s UCC Holding to develop a 2,100MW gas-fired power plant in Baiji. The plant will replace a power station that was damaged during the war.

It is unclear if the project is part of a previous agreement between UCC Holding and NIC to develop two power plants with a capacity of 2,400MW in Iraq.

A new 2,000MW gas-fired power plant is also being proposed in Basra, which is expected to receive gas from the nearby West Qurna 1 and West Qurna 2 oil fields.

As it is, several projects are waiting for final approvals, such as the gas-fired 2,800MW Khairat independent power producer, which has yet to reach FID over two years after the contract was awarded.  

Going nuclear 

Project delays and indecision in Iraq do not appear to narrow down the options for future power generation expansion.  

In March, it was reported that senior Iraq and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials had discussed Iraq’s plans for a possible nuclear energy programme, including small modular reactors.

According to the nuclear watchdog, discussions included maintaining strict adherence to non-proliferation norms.

IAEA director general Rafael Mariano Grossi said his agency has committed to supporting the foundations of what should be an entirely peaceful programme in Iraq.

Iraq, for its part, is considering nuclear energy to enable greater energy security and for water desalination projects as part of the country’s plans for a more sustainable future.
Jennifer Aguinaldo
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