The reason for Iran’s power outages: exports or infrastructure?

Tehran Times | Ebrahim Fallahi: Since starting of the summer, an intense heat-wave has been blanketing over most of the cities of Iran, leading to an over-usage of airconditioning appliances and a significant jump in electricity consumption among the household consumers. The situation has led to a series of daily power outages across the country which has affected many businesses and people adversely.

There are various factors and reasons which could contribute to electricity shortage in a country’s power network. Lack of enough power plants, lack of feedstock for thermal or gas power plants, drought and etc., could be mentioned as some of such factors. But what is the reason for Iran’s power shortage or better to say power outage! Which one of the above mentioned reasons is the case for Iran?

Are the country’s power plants not generating enough energy? or maybe people are over-consuming electricity and they are the reason for this dilemma. Some may say the main reason for this power outages is that Iran is exporting electricity to the neighboring countries despite its domestic needs and this has led to the current situation. To find out the main reason for the current electricity situation in Iran let’s take a look at the country’s statistics regarding power generation, consumption and exports.

Power generation

According to the data released by Iran’s Power Generation and Distribution Company (known as TAVANIR), the country’s current installed power capacity stands at around 77,000 megawatts (MW), most of which is accounted for thermal power plants.

Iran increased its electricity generation capacity to 76,302 MW, in the Iranian calendar year of 1395 which ended on March 20, 2017 and then added another 1,724 MW from mostly thermal power plants, by January 2018.

That means gas is the significant player in the country’s power generation and drought, although important, could not be the reason for Iran’s recent power outages.
According to Hamidreza Azimi, the deputy managing director for planning affairs in Thermal Power Plants Holding Company, natural gas power plants account for almost 75.5 percent of the country’s generation capacity and considering Iran’s abundant gas resources so lack of feedstock for the power plants couldn’t be also accounted for as a reason.

Electricity exports & consumption

Iran exchanges energy with its neighbors namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Iraq, as well as the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic among which Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan are sole importers of Iran’s electricity.
According to Iran’s energy ministry, Iraq has been the country’s top electricity importer followed by Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nakhjavan, Armenia and finally Azerbaijan.

As reported by ISNA, according to the latest data by Iran Grid Management Company (IGMC), on average Iran has been exporting about 100 MW of electricity to its neighbors while importing about 300 MW during the last two weeks.

For instance, on July 16, some 119MW of electricity was exported from the country while 406MW was injected to Iranian grids by the neighboring countries. The peak of household consumption for this mentioned day was reported to be 54,251 MW while the industries consumed 6498 MW. Considering the aforementioned data, the country’s total electricity consumption in this specific day stood at 60.749 MW added by 100 MW of the exports the figure for the total consume electricity will reach around 60.850 MW.

Now let’s go back to the data for the country’s electricity generation, as I mentioned earlier, according to the country’s energy ministry, Iran has the generation capacity of about 77,000 MW. That means considering the exports and even the highest consumption levels taken into account, still the country’s generation capacity is way more than the consumption and exports altogether.

What’s wrong then?

After the above considerations, we come to the question of “what could be the problem, then?”
The answer to this question is simple, the country’s inefficient grids, transmission and distribution infrastructures are the main reason for all these problems.
Recently, Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian has made some interesting remarks that could be considered proof for what I have just discussed.
“We cannot put any more pressure on our generation, transmission and distribution equipment and systems and cause damage to them” ISNA quoted Ardakanian as saying on July 13.

The minister’s remarks are a clear indication that the country’s power infrastructure efficiency does not match the generation capacity.

This simple fact shows the great importance of infrastructure in any industry, Iranian energy ministry needs to know that only boosting the generation capacity is not an indication of growth, the country’s power distribution and transmission systems must be upgraded accordingly.

Something that if was considered carefully in the ministry’s grid management, with all the generation capacity and resources that the country has, we wouldn’t be facing such outages and their consequent problems.