Hydro upgrade in Iraq

20 July 2004

ANYONE considering the figures of electricity consumption in pre-war Iraq is most likely to conclude that the country generally didn’t use much power. Kilowatt-hour demand per capita was only 120W, compared to 600W for the average person in the UK and 1.2kW for an American. What is not often understood is that the electrical generating base was often deliberately kept low during Saddam Hussein’s reign, as electricity was one of those perks that could be favourably rationed, because the base capacity, 4000MW, was so inadequate.

Typically, parts of Baghdad, Fallujah and Tikrit would receive electricity up to 24 hours a day. Everyone else was getting between 0 and 10 hours. Indeed since the early 1990s, the Kurdish Region to the north was entirely cut off from the central electricity grid.
When Saddam Hussein’s regime came to an end in July 2003, one of the first steps of the Coalition Provisional Authority and the former Electricity Minister, Dr Ayham al-Samarrai, was to equalise the distribution of electricity across the country. Today the person in charge of the very difficult and dangerous job of restoring electricity to Iraq is Electricity Minister Dr Aiham Alsammarae.

Building work

Rebuilding Iraqi hydro power actually started before the war, in the Kurdish controlled north. After 1996, the United Nations (UN) ran The Electricity Network Rehabilitation Programme. This acquired some urgency when it was made clear that the north would no longer have access to the Iraqi National Grid, controlled by Saddam Hussein. As such the 3 Northern Governorates quickly came to rely principally on hydro power.
Much work had to be done on the two dams at Derbandikhan and Dokan. This involved dam crest reconstruction, including riprap repair and roadwork, repair of spillway gates and their operating gear, refurbishment of the intake gates, hydraulic operating gear and reconstruction of various buildings. Strengthening the structural integrity of dams was also a prime concern.

Still, the main focus remains on the reconstruction of the electricity infrastructure that has happened after the war. It had been hoped that by the changeover date of 30 June 2004, 6000MW of capacity would be installed. Unfortunately due to the uprising in April, the ‘Spring Maintenance Programme’ was significantly curtailed and the actual figure was more like 4500MW. Nevertheless, the brightest spot has been with hydro power. The refurbishment of just one turbine at one dam, Haditha, at the end of May, added 110MW to the grid.

Since 1990, Haditha dam, perched on the Euphrates river, had been working at 20 to 30% of its capacity. However the US$56M refurbishment made significant progress by:-

• Full re-energisation of the 400kV power line connecting it to the grid.

• Laying of 223km of power lines and construction of 459 towers.

• Replacement of turbine # 6 due to cracked runner blades.

• Replacement of pumps, controls and motors.

The team – composed of the US Army Corps of Engineers, CH2M Hill and Iraqi hydro engineers and workers – added 460MW to the grid.

Future plans

At the time of writing, tendering was taking place for the 127kW Bawarky hydro power scheme in the Kurdish controlled north to power the villages of Bawarky Kavry and Duhik. The preliminary cost estimate and economic analysis for Bawarky is US$242,640. On the horizon, two much bigger projects loom; the 27MW Adhaim project on the Adhaim river and Duhuk on the Robar river.

Early assumptions about rebuilding Iraq’s power network have had to be reassessed. It had been determined that hydro plants were in a better condition than thermal and gas plants, so the decision was made to concentrate restoration efforts toward the latter. And whilst hydro plants were in better shape, the problems with terrorism accentuated the importance of hydro to Iraqi electricity generation. It was considered that terrorists just didn’t have the firepower to destroy dams. In Iraq’s case, terrorists tend to be located in the cities, far away from the dams. This is why hydro, although attributed the lowest priority, has actually had the greatest effect. By a huge margin, most of the capacity thus far added in Iraq has been in hydro power. Looking forward, with an ultimate capacity target of up to 20,000MW, hydro power in Iraq can still go a lot further.


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