Electric Power Generators and the War in Iraq



Copyright © 2007 Will Gruver

Long before the United States invaded Iraq, Iraq’s power infrastructure was in shambles, and it seemed like things could not get any worse, as brownouts and blackouts were commonplace. Since the war, things have actually gotten worse, and Iraqis have had to turn to alternative means to supply their energy needs. Power outages are an all too familiar scenario in this war-torn country. It is not uncommon to have lights go dark without any warning, and many people are so used to it, that the shock factor wore off many years ago.

This fickleness in their power supply system has led many people to utilize alternative power sources in the form of portable power generators. These electric generators are the only way that ordinary Iraqi citizens can maintain the slightest sense of normalcy, while insurgents continue to wage war against the Iraqi government and the American forces. Many homes are forced to rely on these stand-alone backup power sources, which are connected to several homes by a wire strung through the air.

The truth of the matter is that most of Iraq’s working-class neighborhoods are now hooked up to portable power generators. These generators allow people to have power during the long blackouts that are routine in this desolate region. Although the dangling power cables are eyesores all across Iraq, these dangerous cables are the lifelines that carry power from a single generator into various homes. The owner of the generator will then charge those utilizing his electric power generation services at a rate of about $10 a month, a hefty price tag that even the poorest Iraqis are willing to shell out.

Overall, Iraq is overflowing with thousands of power generators, stuffed into every nook and crevasse, in back yards, driveways and on street corners. Backup power generators are visible practically anywhere one might travel in Iraq.

After two years and over $1.2 billion invested in the effort to repair the country’s electrical infrastructure, many people in Iraq and America wonder why progress seems so slow in Iraq. Actually, Iraq’s national grid currently averages a daily output of 4,000-4,200 megawatts, a full 200 megawatts below its prewar level of about 4,400 megawatts.

There are a number of reasons why a stable power grid continues to elude the Iraqi people:

  • Insurgents understand that they could never gain the upper hand in Iraq, militarily or psychologically, if the Iraqi people were living in the lap of luxury. So, in their continuing battle to undermine the sitting Iraqi government, the insurgents continue to attack the power grid on an almost daily basis.
  • With the broken power grid and political instability, it is difficult for Iraqi commerce to prosper. This leaves many Iraqi families without a stable source of income, which leads many to scavenge for anything of value, including the copper wire they can scavenge from the power grid, which they can sell to support their families.
  • In the aftermath of the war, the American transitional government agreed to utilize American Army engineers as support personnel, engaged in supporting the Iraqi electrical workers. Unfortunately, the Iraqi power grid support personnel do not have the same level of training that our people have. As a result, our engineers are not as effective as they possibly could be if they were simply allowed to do the job that they have been trained to do.

Prior to the arrival of the Americans, most Iraqis were actually welcoming the idea of a U.S invasion, partly because they believed that our technological superiority and outstanding engineers would easily be able to restore their destitute power system and create a more reliable system on which they could rebuild their country’s commercial standing in the region. A steady flow of electricity is crucial to the continued operation of their oil industry processes, so our people and theirs do invest a significant effort into keeping the oil flowing to the ships.

Before the war, many Iraqis believed that the Americans could bring in their technology to replace the dilapidated technology of the Hussein era, elevating Iraq quickly into the 21st century.

Unfortunately, five years after the American invasion, most of Iraq’s 26 million residents continue to suffer the effects of a continuing insurgent war and an unreliable power system.

The summer months in Iraq are the most demanding times of the year as far as power needs, with summer temperatures climbing regularly to near 115 degrees. It is simply unthinkable to try to survive an Iraqi summer without an air conditioning system.

On a positive note, there are now more refrigerators and air conditioners in Iraqi homes than ever before. That is good news, but it creates a whole new set of problems and stresses on the Iraqi power grid. As the triple-digit temperatures of July and August weigh heavily on Iraqi families, the actual electrical need is estimated to be closer to the range of 8,000 to 8,800 megawatts of electricity, instead of the currently available 4,000 to 4,200 megawatts. Iraq’s power grid is running at its maximum power output in the 4,000-megawatt range, and scheduled maintenance always reduces that number to even lower levels.

As the U.S. Congress and the U.S. President battle over the future of funding for the Iraq War, they could easily set a precedent for success by investing even more money into a quicker rebuilding of a reliable power system.

Iraq, with its thousands of portable electric generators is in the perfect position to be the poster child for the concept of a portable and distributed power supply. With the right technology, the thousands of ordinary Iraqi’s who own and distribute electric power now, could be plugged into the main power grid as independent suppliers of safe and reliable electric power for the Iraqi people. An additional advantage to be gained from a system like this would be that since thousands of people would stand to profit from providing a reliable power supply system, then the population may be more interested in making the commitment to protect the power supply of a nation, from the insurgents who wish to damage it.

About The Author:

Written by: Will Gruver of US Power & Environment. USPE's Eden Prairie, MN headquarters, assisted by in-house product technical and operations specialists, has the experience gained from supplying, installing and maintaining on-site energy systems across the country and around the world. They buy, sell, rent and repair natural gas and diesel power generators. To learn more, visit their website at: http://www.uspowerco.com or give them a call at: 877-772-6018