Iraq power projects make headway

9 May 2023

 

The inefficiency of Iraq’s electricity generation and transmission and distribution (T&D) infrastructure is well documented and ironic, given that the country is the second-largest Opec crude oil producer and home to the world’s largest crude oil reserves.

Decades-long protracted armed conflicts have routinely targeted Iraq’s substations, while economic and political upheavals have deterred further investments within the sector.

Over the past few months, however, there have been positive indications that the tide could be turning in favour of Iraq’s plans to improve the sector’s performance and output and reduce its carbon intensity.

In February, US-headquartered GE and Iraq’s Ministry of Electricity (MoE) agreed to pursue new projects to boost the country’s electricity infrastructure.

The parties signed principles of cooperation (PoC) to explore several projects, including establishing new power plants, expanding capacity at existing facilities, and building new substations to relieve grid congestion across a range of directorates.

This is on top of the power generation and T&D projects that the US firm has delivered in Iraq since 2011.

MOE also signed five-year service agreements with Germany’s Siemens Energy for three power plants with a combined total capacity of 1GW in March. Further cooperation is expected to be finalised for conventional and renewable generation capacity of up to 11GW.

In addition, Iraq has an estimated $10bn-worth of greenfield and brownfield thermal power generation projects in various planning and procurement stages, along with some $5bn of solar photovoltaic (PV) power plants, data from regional projects tracker MEED Projects reveals.

France’s TotalEnergies is in advanced talks to develop a 1GW solar power project catering to the southern Basra region as part of its $27bn Iraq energy programme.

“Talks are … progressing positively with the government. There are discussions about contracts and doing development activities,” a source close to the project tells MEED.

Power links

Similarly, plans to link Iraq to the regional GCC, Saudi Arabia and Jordan electricity grids have made good progress in recent months.

In February, the GCC Interconnection Authority (GCCIA) confirmed the award of five contracts worth $220m for the construction of infrastructure linking the region’s electricity grid with Iraq’s.

The project involves the construction of a double circuit 400-kilovolt (kV) transmission line from the Wafra station in Kuwait to the Al-Faw station in south Iraq with a total transmission capacity of 1,800MW and a length of 295 kilometres.

To be completed within 24 months, the project’s first stage is expected to supply Iraq with 500MW of electricity.

Work on the first 150MW phase of the Iraq-Jordan power link is also understood to start this month, following the award of the contract to GE.

A third power transmission link is planned by Saudi Electricity Company and Iraq’s MoE, between Arar in northern Saudi Arabia and Yousifiyah, a township in Iraq’s Baghdad Governorate.

These projects will help alleviate Iraq’s worsening power deficit, especially in the summer months when its existing infrastructure cannot cope with demand spikes.

It could also reduce dependence on Iran, from which Iraq imports an average of 1,200MW of electricity annually to augment supply.

It is understood Baghdad accrued a debt of $1.6bn for its Iranian gas and electricity purchases between 2019 and 2021, although most of the debt, if not all, was reportedly settled in October 2022.

Setbacks

As expected in Iraq, there have been some setbacks despite the encouraging developments.

Norwegian utility developer and investor Scatec has exited the deals it signed in 2021 to develop two solar independent power projects (IPPs) with a total combined capacity of 525MW in Karbala and Iskandariya.

Reports cite that difficulties and delays in negotiations led to the firm’s decision to exit the projects, for which power-purchase agreements (PPAs) are understood to have not yet been signed.

Scatec’s partners for the project, Egypt’s Orascom and the local firm Iraqi al-Bilal, may go ahead with implementing the projects, according to an industry source. 

The start of construction work has also been delayed for the first phase of a planned 1,400MW thermal power plant in Karbala due to the lack of a financial agreement between the developer and the Iraqi government.

Baghdad-based Harlow International was selected to develop the project in February 2021. During the intervening period, it acquired land, signed a power-purchase agreement and appointed China’s Citic Construction to build the first and second phases of the planned power plant. 

Citic has agreed to co-finance the project along with Harlow International.

Decarbonisation route

In addition to an estimated 5.5GW of solar PV projects in various stages of negotiations, other plans are under way to reduce the carbon intensity of Iraq’s energy sector.

For example, the recent PoC that the Electricity Ministry signed with GE includes a proposed 10-point strategy to accelerate Iraq’s energy transition.

The plan includes a flare gas-to-power project so that Iraq can utilise gas that is currently flared to produce electricity. Maintenance, upgrades and rehabilitation of the traditional fuel fleet are also planned.

It additionally includes a combined-cycle conversion programme, which is expected to “enhance efficiency, leading to significant fuel savings and decreasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions intensity”.

Notably, Iraq has tendered and awarded several plant conversion projects in recent years. In February, MOE awarded a team of China’s Dongfang Electric and China State Construction Engineering Corporation a contract to convert a simple-cycle power generation plant in Al-Zubair into a combined-cycle gas turbine (CCGT) facility.

Similar projects are in the procurement and execution stages. These include converting three power plants in Baghdad and two in Quds.

In 2021, MOE prequalified companies to bid for the contracts to convert two simple-cycle power plants in Diwaniya and Haidariya into CCGT facilities. Other similar projects include an existing power plant in Karbala, which has 10 units of GE’s F9E gas turbines, and another power plant in Najaf, which runs on two GE F9E units.

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Jennifer Aguinaldo
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