Iraq wants to build 750 MW solar power plants in seven countries

This measure aims to solve the constant power outages that make life extremely difficult for the country's citizens
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PHOTO/ARCHIVO  -   Solar panel installation in Kerbala, Iraq

Iraq is seeking international investors to build seven solar power plants, with a total capacity of 750 megawatts (MW) as it aims to develop its renewable energy potential.

Iraq is in talks with some of the international companies, including French Total and “Norwegian companies” to discuss building solar projects, the oil ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

All the seven solar power plants to be built in the south of the country, including a largest 300 megawatts plant in Kerbala, said the statement.

The dilapidated national grid supplies only a few hours of power a day, leaving Iraqis to swelter in the summer months, when temperatures can top 50 degrees Celsius.

Solar energy is rare in Iraq, expect for lighting on some of its main streets.

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PHOTO/REUTERS - Kerbala City, Iraq 
Frequent power cuts 

In 2018, hundreds of citizens took to the streets in cities such as Basra, Najaf, and to a lesser extent, Baghdad. Basra is the main city in the south of the country and has one of the largest oil fields in the country, but successive governments have been unable to provide the necessary energy and drinking water.  

Power cuts, in one of the hottest regions on the planet, led protesters to attack the headquarters of some political parties, government buildings and Najaf airport.  

In 2019, protests took place again, this time with the participation of two political parties, the National Wisdom Movement and the Sadr Movement. The leaders of the latter went so far as to propose cutting off electricity to all government officials and sending it to hospitals and schools.  

In April 2020, former Energy Minister Luay Alkateeb blamed the wars, the fight against ISIS, consumer irresponsibility and the age of the grid itself for the serious deterioration of the Iraqi power grid. As a result, there are an average of 15 hours of blackouts per day, something that has become part of everyday life for Iraqis.

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PHOTO/REUTERS - Solar panels on a power plant
ISIS remnants continue to attack the electricity grid

Despite being officially defeated in 2017, remnants of the Islamic State continue to attack the power grid to cause power outages. In April last year, Diyala and Baghdad suffered attacks by the terrorist group, damaging two of the main power lines for the country and leaving much of the country without power.  

Iraq's current power generation capacity is approximately 13.5 megawatts despite a demand of 20 MW and a theoretical installed capacity of 17 MW.  

It is estimated that Iraq loses 60% of its oil because it is incapable of channelling it, which if improved in this respect could save 6 billion dollars that it spends each year on buying fuel, according to World Bank estimates in 2019. According to the same World Bank report, only 30 per cent of the electricity produced and 50 per cent of the electricity billed is collected because of a lack of meters and commercial systems. 

This scenario has led to a flourishing business in the sale of generators, with some groups earning millions. In fact, some accuse parties and armed groups of profiting from the explosion of electricity pylons in order to profit from the sale of generators.