Keeping the classroom cool
Imagine living in an energy-rich country yet being hampered by daily power cuts. That was the reality for many in southern Iraq, who for years struggled in hot and dry conditions without reliable electricity. But the situation is improving as steady gas supplies help to generate more power.
The children and teachers at Al-Shaheed Wajdi primary school in Basrah are used to long, hot summers with temperatures that reach 50° Celsius.
In recent years regular power cuts exacerbated the stifling summer weather.
In classes, lights went out and fans stopped, leaving students frustrated and struggling to cope.
But over the last two years, the city’s electricity supply has gradually improved.
In the summer of 2017, more reliable power brought welcome relief from the searing heat and enabled students to concentrate at school.
“The electricity supply is better and that’s helped us a lot,” says Sabah Abdul Kareem, the school’s principal.
“Before, the students could not withstand the heat and lost focus. Having a reliable supply of electricity has had a huge impact on their psychological wellbeing.”
Upgrades and repairs
Conditions have improved largely thanks to a joint venture between the Iraqi government, Mitsubishi and Shell.
The Basrah Gas Company (BGC) is upgrading gas infrastructure in southern Iraq that had fallen into disrepair through years of conflict, unrest and a lack of investment.
There is no shortage of gas in southern Iraq. The oilfields of West Qurna 1, Zubair and Rumaila produce an abundance of gas with the crude oil. Most of the gas used to be burned off, or flared.
But BGC is now capturing and processing this gas at the rate of more than 900 million cubic feet a day.
When used in power plants, that is enough to meet around 70% of the electricity needs of Basra and its surrounding areas.
It also saves the government hundreds of millions of dollars a year by reducing the volume of crude oil burned in power plants.
Beyond power cuts
For many Iraqis, more reliable electricity means life can continue during the summer peak demand period, at work, at school and at home.
“In the past, you really needed to prepare for the cuts. You needed access to a generator, which was expensive,” said Marfa Al-Asady, a project engineer for BGC who lives with his family in Basrah.
“But still there was no air conditioning. Electricity was for fans and lighting only. The last two summers have been different.”
The company also produces liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), supplying it to the domestic market for cooking and heating.
Last year, for the first time, Iraq exported LPG too. BGC generates further revenue through processing increasing amounts of gas condensates - a light oil - most of which is exported, creating additional income for the country.
Marfa Al-Asady has been with the company since it was set up. He worked for the state-owned South Gas Company (SGC) – BGC’s majority shareholder – for 14 years.
He is one of around 5,000 SGC employees who were transferred into BGC, helping to make it a unique partnership in Iraq.
Central to the company’s goals is to reduce overall carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from flaring.
It has been recognised by the World Bank as one of the world’s largest flaring reduction projects.
Since 2014, the company has tripled the gas captured from the West Qurna 1, Zubair and Rumaila oil fields and it is confident it will process all of the associated gas they produce in the coming years.
Last year, BGC’s operations are estimated to have contributed to avoiding around 20 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, the equivalent amount that a small country produces annually.
While power cuts of many hours are mostly a thing of the past, cuts of up to an hour still happen, says Ehab Chalabie, an occupational health specialist who lives in Basrah.
Those who can afford it continue to buy back-up electricity from privately-owned generators which can supply several houses.
While the cost is prohibitive to many Iraqis and the generators create air and noise pollution, they continue to play an important role in providing electricity, especially for medical clinics and businesses.
“Around three summers ago, I used to spend between $200 and $300 a month for extra electricity at home,” says Ehab. “Now I only pay around $50 dollars a month because the grid is better. It’s still not perfect but a big improvement.”
By Marcus George
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