Generators business thrive in Iraq amid power cuts

Thu, 2021-07-22 02:05

BAGHDAD: Sweat drips from Aqeel Hassan as he tinkers with a labyrinth of wires that connect 270 homes in Baghdad’s sprawling Sadr City. It is a thankless job, but a crucial one amid another scorching heatwave.
His workplace is a humble shack right in front of his home, which comprises a bed, pigeons in a pen to keep him company and more than 200 color-coded switches, running to a loud, humming diesel generator.
Hassan is the neighborhood’s generator handyman, whose job involves installing and repairing the wires and switches to make sure his generator keeps running smoothly.
The system supplies power to the homes on the block when the decrepit national grid breaks down, yet again. As summer temperatures sizzle above 50 degrees Celsius, residents are increasingly reliant on his supply.
“I don’t have a start time when I clock in, I’m always on, 24 hours a day,” the burly 42-year-old told AFP.
He says he just fell into the job of maintaining generators after the US invasion in 2003.
Iraq buys gas and power from neighboring Iran to supply about a third of its energy sector, dilapidated by decades of conflict, poor maintenance and rampant corruption.
But Iran decided last month to cut power supplies to its western neighbor, saying the Iraqi Electricity Ministry owes it more than $6 billion in arrears.
That has left the national electricity provider Wataniya unable to keep up with soaring demand from the country’s 40 million people.
“Our generators are working overtime these days — around 22 hours a day,” Hassan said. Customers pay him to switch on his generator when the national grid fails. Although sometimes he says he provides electricity for free to the poorest.
Sadr City is the capital’s most densely populated suburb with over 1 million low-income households tightly packed next to each other.
There are 4.5 million privately owned generators nationwide, estimates Harry Istepanian, a Washington-based independent energy consultant and senior fellow of Iraq Energy Institute.
Each household spends “on average around $100-200 per month on electricity (which) is equivalent to a $6 to $10 billion business for privately owned generators, but it neither contributes to the country’s economy nor pays taxes,” he said.
He said Iraq’s electricity woes and the dependence on this alternative network will likely endure for some time.
“There is no quick fix for the electricity shortages, especially during peak seasons. The government needs to take bold steps in liberalizing the sector,” he said.

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One of the owners of private electric generators at his business in Baghdad’s Sadr City district, which powers 270 homes in the block for when the faltering national grid breaks down. (AFP)
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