Iranian, Saudi Interests Conflict in Iraq’s Energy Market

The lack of infrastructure for supplying electricity makes Iraq a battleground for energy between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia

Energy suppliers are trying to use energy exports as a key factor in shaping foreign policy and their relations with neighbors and other countries. Iran and Saudi Arabia as two key members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have their own priorities and interests in the region. Their opposing interests have forced them to support opposing sides in regional tensions, such as in Syria and Yemen. U.S. sanctions against the Iranian energy sector have given an opportunity to OPEC and non-OPEC members to export more oil to the regional and world market to take Iran’s stake in the market.

Presently, Iran exports electricity to neighboring countries and according to Iran’s 20-year development, by 2025 they must prepare all the required infrastructure to become a regional electricity hub. Iraq is the biggest importer of Iranian electricity. Both countries signed an agreement in 2005 to export Iranian electricity to Iraq.

Iraq, with huge oil reserves, has a problem in generating the required electricity and must import from its neighbors. The Iraqi government can only supply 68 percent of its electricity in normal conditions. With increasing temperatures, especially in the summer, this ineffective capacity is severely reduced. Iraq faces a shortage of 5,000 megawatts (MW), although several power plants are under construction, but the electricity demand of the country is increasing by 7 percent annually. Since the first Gulf War in 1990, the power generation infrastructure has been abandoned in Iraq. This situation worsened after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. After the end of the Gulf War, Iraq tried to attract foreign technology and financial capital to recover oil production capacity and construct an electricity grid. The Daesh problem and its negative effect on Iraqi national security is another major factor that has led to Iraq becoming an electricity importer.

Iran and Iraq have signed an agreement over exporting 150 MW of electricity to Iraq annually. This agreement is extended every year. By Feb. 11, 2019, Iran extended electricity to Iraq for one more year. Iraq imports 120-130 MW annually. But due to sanctions and Iraq’s financial problems, Iraq was not able pay for importing electricity. According to Iranian officials, Iraq is interested in paying its debt and is looking for a way to send money to Iran. Homyon Hairi, deputy to the Iranian minister of energy, believes that, “There is a positive outlook in this regard, which is to be followed by joint executive working groups.”

Iran’s gas customers

Iraq and Turkey are Iran’s major natural gas buyers. Iraq began importing gas from Iran in late June 2017, with imports of about 14 million cubic meters per day, with Turkey importing about 30 million cubic meters a day. Iran plans to export 25 million cubic meters of gas daily to Baghdad and to transfer gas to Basra province.

As mentioned earlier, Iraq is unable to pay for electricity and natural gas from Iran. According to the latest statics released by the Iranian Ministry of Oil, Iraq must pay about $2 billion to Iran over natural gas and electricity imports. It is expected to solve this problem during Iranian President Hasan Rouhani’s visit to Iraq. Rouhani has shown interest in exporting more electricity to Iraq; though he has not mentioned the methods they may be able to agree upon in paying the electricity and natural gas debt to Iran. It seems both presidents have not agreed on this issue.

Last summer, Iran cut the electricity flow to Iraq due to high domestic consumption, according to Reza Ardakanian, Iran’s minister of energy. Iran’s neighboring country has a wide range of demands, partly through Iran’s transmission lines, adding: “We are in constant touch with Iraq, and just a few days ago, the Iraqi Minister of Electricity was here and talked to us.” Stopping the export of electricity from Iran has aggravated the problem of electricity in Iraq, causing massive street protests, especially in Shiite cities, against the central government as well as against Iran.

Iran cutting electricity provides an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to use energy investments in Iraq to increase its political influence. According to the spokesman for the Ministry of Electricity, Musab Sari al-Mudaris, Saudi Arabia has agreed to launch a solar power plant with a production capacity of 3,000 MW in northern Saudi Arabia near the Iraqi border, and each megawatt of electricity will be offered to Iraq at $21, which is equal to one-quarter of Iran’s electricity exports to Iraq. Saudi Arabia has not only put electricity prices at a quarter of Iran’s electricity prices but also exported three times more exports than Iran. Saudi Arabia continues to compete with Iran in the economic sphere by building a solar power plant in Iraq and selling electricity to that country.

After Rouhani’s visit to Iraq, Saudi Commerce and Investment Minister Majid bin Abdullah Al Qasabi visited Iraq and met with Iraqi officials. According to an official statement by the Iraqi president, Iraq is interested in establishing a mechanism for joint economic interests with regional countries, especially Saudi Arabia. Last year, the Iraqi government showed interested in developing and boosting its relations with Arab countries. Iraq and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement in 2017 to form a coordinating council.

Saudi Arabia is seriously trying to expand its ties with Iraq with the aim of limiting Iran’s influence in Iraq, with at least a counterbalance to it. Of course, the United States has also contributed to this strengthening of relations between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, especially as the United States, like Saudi Arabia, wants to reduce Iran’s influence in the region. But the point is that all this competition will be beneficial for Iraq.

The Saudi perspective

Saudi Arabia is pursuing its main goal by strengthening its ties with Iraq: First, the decline of Iran’s influence in Iraq, and the other in attracting Iraq to its Gulf-Qatari axis. Saudi Arabia has concluded that the policy that has taken place in Iraq since 2003 is wrong and that Iraq is a fundamental part of the Arab world’s geography.

Saudi Arabia and Iraq have not cooperated for more than 27 years, and Saudi Arabia is rapidly seeking to expand ties. In the sacred city of Najaf in Iraq, Saudi Arabia seeks to establish a consulate and have a rich presence among the Shiites as well. According to Iraqi officials, this consulate will be set up soon. Cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Iraq is at an early stage and in the meantime, meetings have been held at high levels in which Saudi Arabia has pledged a $100 billion investment in Iraq and to rebuild Sunni cities such as Fallujah, Ramadi, Tikrit and Mosul.

The Saudis have focused their efforts in the province of Basra, because this province is considered the richest Iraqi province. With the implementation of large projects in the province, the Saudis hope to compete with the Iranians or even overcome them.

Iraqi officials hope that Saudis will use their money in road construction projects and re-activate the Iraqi oil export pipeline to the

Red Sea, which has been closed since 1990.

A new alliance

For about six months, officials and senior officials from Saudi Arabia and Iraq have been meeting, and there are ongoing efforts to work together and reach a new alliance. Saudi Arabia is using investments in multiple countries’ infrastructure and energy sectors to boost its political influence in the country and also trying to affect foreign policy orientation. Saudi Arabia plans to invest in an area of 1 million hectares in the livestock and poultry industry of Iraq.

The Saudi initiative, described as an opportunity to confront the influence of Iran in Iraq, is the result of efforts by former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to balance ties with his neighbors. The project was initiated by the Saudi Arabian Cooperation Council and Iraq, which was founded in October 2017.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – on his visit to India, Pakistan and China – tried to use investments in these countries’ energy sectors to reduce Iran’s role in these countries’ energy basket and energy security. Iran and Saudi are Shiite and Sunni countries looking to expand their sphere of influence in the region. Iraq with both Sunni and Shiite people is very important for Iran and Saudi perspectives and it seems that in coming years both countries will be using all instruments to increase their presence in Iraq and reduce the influence of other countries in Iraq. Saudi Arabia, with huge financial capability, will be able to play an important role in Iraq post-Daesh. Iraq needs billions of dollars for construction post-Daesh and is an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to increase its influence. Iran never wants to lose its key role in Iraq and in Iraqi Shiite groups. Iran also wants to have a role in Iraq in the post-Daesh period.

Geopolitical competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia will continue in Iraq. Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries are seeking to increase their influence in Iraq, and new U.S. sanctions against the Iranian oil sector could provide such an opportunity. However, coping with Iranian influences from politics to trade is difficult.

//www.dailysabah.com

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Iran’s Regional Electricity Hub Plan

Despite its huge oil and gas reserves, Iran has been unable to play an important role in regional and international energy market. The limitations placed on its industry, the high growth of annual domestic consumption, and the general disruptions caused to oil exports have all caused consternation among policymakers, especially in the absence of a broad, multi-tiered strategy. Iran needs to promote a smarter energy and foreign diplomacy if it wishes to increase regional cooperation and export electricity to generate the funds necessary to shift toward renewables. Any future sanctions against Iran’s energy sector would have little effect if the country increased the role of renewables in its energy basket. An improved investment climate and improved relations with neighbors would help Iran attract foreign capital and the technological know-how to achieve this goal.

 

Exporting electricity is better than exporting raw materials such as natural gas. At present, Iran produces a daily amount of 700-800,000 cubic meters. With the completion of five phases of the South Pars Field, the country could increase production by 150,000 cubic meters before March 2019. Its huge natural gas reserves allow Iran to use natural gas to generate electricity to export to neighbors.

 

According to 2018 statistics released by the Energy Ministry, Iran exported electricity to seven neighbors. In 2017, Iran ranked fourteenth among the world’s largest electricity suppliers, as well as constituting one of the countries with the lowest rates of accidents in the power sector. At present, Iran exports 12 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, while importing around 4 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity annually. This means earnings of anywhere between $900 million and $1 billion per year. Iran is interested in drawing up long-term contracts to increase elasticity with Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, as according to Iranian officials, these countries are also interested in boosting electricity imports from Iran. For the first time in Iran’s history, the Iranian government has recently allowed foreign companies to export part of the electricity generated in the country to attract more foreign investments in renewables,

 

During the period of U.S. and EU sanctions against Iran’s energy sector, Iranian oil and gas production capacity dropped dramatically, causing decision makers to reconsider renewables in the future of the country’s energy basket. Presently, renewable energy represents less than 1 percent of electricity production, along with about 6 percent coming from hydroelectric. The government has insisted, at least on paper, that boosting renewables is a priority.

 

Hamid Chitchian, Iran’s former energy minister, has also declared that Iran’s energy diplomacy should focus on expanding electrical cooperation with neighbors. Post-sanctions Iran must apply changes to the configuration of its electricity generation, transmission, and distribution. According to the former minister, “Iran’s main priorities for the post-sanction era include use of modern technologies, plant efficiency, smart electrical grids, reopened credit lines, and foreign investment in the power industry.”

 

Although Iran’s exports of electricity in the region outweigh its imports, the country still hasn’t realized Article 60 of its Sixth Development Plan, which declares the country’s aim to become a regional electricity hub. Article 60 of the Sixth Plan for Economic Development demands steps be taken to establish a regional electricity market from the first year of the program. Iran’s geographical situation and electricity transit systems give it the perfect opportunity to connect to other markets in Russia via Azerbaijan, Europe via Turkey, and the MENA region through Iraq.

 

However, the active involvement of the private sector and the encouragement of foreign investors will be a pre-requisite for the construction of power plants and the development of electricity transmission networks.

 

From a political and security perspective, electricity exports, in contrast to conventional gas exports, could promote greater connectedness to the region and neighboring countries.

 

Currently, Iran has an electrical connection with all neighboring countries (except for Gulf states). In addition, the presence of expert and skilled human resources in Iran and high levels of self-reliance in the power industry and the construction of electrical equipment in the Middle East and Central Asian region are a relative advantage.

 

As part of the Paris agreement, Iran has voluntarily committed itself to installing the means for generating 7,500 megawatts of renewable energy by 2030. Iran has also passed new laws and regulations aiming to attract more foreign investment and technology in electricity generation.

 

A look at price changes applied to the country’s gas and electricity exports in recent years shows that the price of gas is more dependent on the price of oil than the price of electricity, and therefore revenues from electricity exports are more stable than gas-export earnings.

 

Iran can and should aim to become an energy hub for the region, as it is able to receive cheap electricity from Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and other countries to export to more wealthy buyers in Turkey, Iraq, the UAE, and Pakistan, which bid for electricity at a significantly better price. According to Iranian officials, Iran’s growing energy relations with neighbors have helped it to develop the infrastructure needed to expand its electricity export destinations and put it in a position to realize its goals. However, vast improvements are needed to the transport infrastructure and connectivity of countries of the region, as well as the development of maternal industries, such as the electricity industry and energy exports.

 

Still, after more than a decade, Iran has not put forward any specific operational plans for improving the conditions of the country to become the hub of the region. The failure to develop this infrastructure means that renewed sanctions against Iran’s energy sector will bring major challenges. All the foreign firms once active in Iran’s oil and gas fields, as well as any foreign energy companies that have signed agreement with Iran, left the country after the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement. Iran signed an agreement with Turkey’s Unit International to build a number of 5,000 megawatt power plants, but progress has stalled. Iran hopes that foreign capital and technology will produce more natural gas for electricity generation and greater export elasticity with neighbors mean that it may finally get back on its feet in the energy market. Iran must decrease domestic natural gas consumption and try to renew electricity infrastructure if it wishes for any chance of success in the regional electricity market. However, the main obstacle to this will undoubtedly by foreign policy and negotiating solutions with neighbors, not to mention the interlinked issue of attracting foreign investment.

 

https://lobelog.com/irans-regional-electricity-hub-plan/

 

 

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