The Potential of Solar Power in Iraq

Solar energy is at present severely underutilised in Iraq, but has the potential to significantly support the country’s battered electricity grid. Iraq is experiencing a severe need for more power, due to a rising population and increasing demand. Coupled with previous years of political instability and the occupation of parts of the country by Daesh, there is likely to be a 21,000 MW power deficit by 2020. Introducing solar power on a national scale to Iraq would not only help reduce this deficit, but make Iraq a regional leader in cutting carbon emissions. Iraq, and in particular its cities have an excellent climate for fuelling Concentrating Solar Plants, and by being able to stand apart from the central grid, CSPs would provide an invaluable service in helping to power the more remote parts of the country.

The core principle of CSPs is to convert solar radiation to thermal energy through cyclic receivers driven by air, water or oil. There are 68 CSPs currently in existence, producing around 4569.55 MW of energy per year. To function at full capacity, they require a large land area with a high level of direct solar radiation, making them the ideal choice for Iraq. Both the climate and the solar intensity of Iraq are highly conducive for creating concentrated solar power, with Baghdad alone receiving around 3000 hours of high intensity solar radiation annually. In the summer, high pressure from the Mediterranean limit’s rainfall, maximising the solar radiation Iraq is exposed to. In fact, Iraq has an annual ‘solarity’ of 2390 kWh/m2/year, putting it at the forefront of countries that currently produce solar energy on a large scale.

The Iraqi Ministry of Energy has announced a target of increasing the share of Iraq energy produced from renewable sources by 9.4% by 2030. Currently, the majority of this renewable power comes from hydroelectric power stations, around 13% of the total power produced. The vast majority is from natural gas and petroleum, of which around 5 and a half million tonnes were consumed in 2014 alone. In addition, many power stations were damaged or disconnected during the campaign of Daesh, most notably Mosul dam, where the pre-existing worries about its weak foundations were only increased after a brief occupation and battle to reclaim it. There is also significant use of private generators by households trying to supplement the shaky national system. Whilst providing an invaluable service for rural areas of the country, these diesel-powered generators contribute heavily to air pollution in Iraq, and drive up power prices, limiting the overall availability of electricity in the areas which rely on them.

To meet the MoE’s target, then, solar power is a clear way forward. CSPs are ideally suited for Iraq, and although such a large-scale re-orientation of power generation may look expensive, it is far cheaper than it seems. For example, the costs of the photovoltaic cells needed to collect solar radiation have fallen by as much as 80% in the last few years, and is estimated to fall by another 20% from what it is now by 2020. Committing to solar power in Iraq will not only take advantage of the countries naturally beneficial position, it will make Iraq a leader in a region committed to increasing its renewable power generation. It will increase the availability of power to rural Iraq, push prices down and lessen the air pollution of diesel generators in Iraqi cities.