BAGHDAD: Iraq plans to boost the national grid's capacity by about 1,500 megawatts in the next few months, an official said, but Iraqis are set to endure another stifling summer as demand for electricity outpaces an overstretched power supply.
Nearly nine years since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, successive Iraqi governments have failed to address chronic power disruptions in a country where temperatures can top 50 degrees Celsius in the summer.
The electricity shortages are a chief complaint among Iraqis, many of whom face power cuts for up to 20 hours a day during peak demand and have caused street protests that led to the resignation in 2010 of the electricity minister.
"All over the world, demand increases by 2 to 3 percent (annually) but in Iraq demand increases by 15 percent. The demand for electricity increases in leaps," Deputy Electricity Minister Salam Qazaz told Reuters in an interview on Monday.
"The demand for electricity increases in leaps," he said, as Iraqis with more disposable incomes can afford to buy relative cheap Chinese-made household electricity goods.
Qazaz said Iraq's power availability ranged between 7,000 to 8,000 megawatts but would increase to 9,000-9,500 MW this summer as some power projects come online and others are upgraded.
Iraqi demand for electricity peaked at 15,000 megawatts last year, but the oil-producing nation managed to supply less than half of that.
Its national grid supplies only a few hours of power a day ever since electricity supplies collapsed after the invasion when power plants were looted or went without maintenance.
POWER PLANS DEPEND ON OIL
Qazaz said the ministry has plans to add 22,000 MW of production capacity across Iraq, except for the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, by the end of 2015.
Most of those projects, which range from gas to thermal power plants, have either been signed or are in the installation process, Qazaz said.
In January the ministry signed a $235 million electricity deal with a subsidiary of Turkey's Enka Isaat to install a 500-megawatt plant in southern Iraq.
Qazaz said he had also received technical offers from 10 foreign companies to build a power plant with 1,500 MW capacity in the western Anbar province.
Firms that have expressed interest include Italy's Saipem , Greek power plant builder Metka, Turkey's Calik Enerji and other American, Chinese and Indian companies, Qazaz said, adding the ministry would ask them to present bids in a month.
He did not give a timeline for when construction was due to start.
Qazaz said the ministry's ambitious power plans were dependent on an expected increase in oil production since Iraq signed mega deals with foreign firms to quadruple its oil production in a few years.
Iraq's production last year averaged roughly 2.7 million barrels per day.
"We cannot import fuel for all these plants, this is why the oil ministry will move in parallel with us. If they, God forbids, fail, we will fail. If they succeed, we will succeed."