I don’t listen to BBC radio as much as I’d like, but a common theme in their coverage is the lack of electrical power in Baghdad. This got me to wondering earlier today why there are still power issues after three years of occupation. I remember when most of the power in Memphis was knocked out a few summers ago and how a lot of people had to wait a month or so to get their power restored (I was lucky and never lost mine; I believe because I’m close to the university’s grid). Can you imagine intermittent service for three years?

The current situation appears to be a combination of widespread corruption, a lack of skilled workers, a modest increase in megawatts at great cost coupled with a huge increase in demand via vast importation of heavy appliances such as air conditioners since the invasion, and of course the relentless insurgent attacks that require constant rebuilding of existing equipment and huge security measures for any construction.

The best account of the mess I’ve found is in this eye-opening IEEE report. Crack engineers are on the problem of the missing 4000 megawatts, but it appears to be as daunting an engineering task as any ever undertaken.

While the report is refreshingly explicit on the enormity of what must be done, it makes an interesting point when it details how the new political balance in Iraq, with the Shiites on top, has resulted in Basra getting 15 hours of power a day where Baghdad is lucky to get half that – a total reversal of Saddam’s day. And I think it’s safe to assume that American military bases get even more priority on the grid. Couple this with the electricity available being ridiculously cheap and politically impossible to raise the cost of (as after all, the service is pretty lousy) to fund new construction, and the situation seems to be only getting worse.

What a bloody mess – and something to think about when the President talks about measuring the progress in Iraq by megawatts. There are more megawatts, true, but the demand is far beyond Saddam’s day. If Iraq is to transform into the docile puppet state that Bush & company imagined, it’s going to need a solid power grid. I failed to find anything resembling optimism about this in the IEEE report.

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