BY: Ebrahim Fallahi

Iran electricity issue: should we expect blackouts again?

May 21, 2019

In the past decade, constant temperature rising and significant decrease of rainfalls across Iran has put the country in a hard situation regarding electricity supply during peak consumption periods,

so in the past few years power outages have been imposed in big cities to balance the power generation and consumption in such timespans.

Last year, the volume of water behind the country’s dams went so down that electricity output from hydropower plants fell to a decade low. The situation was worsen by a jump in electricity consumption due to a heat-wave that blanketed the country during summer and consequently led to a huge gap between actual power generation and consumption.

The energy ministry, being unable to control the situation through consumption management programs, was left with no choice but to once again order periodic blackouts in major cities in order to reduce the skyrocketing consumption. But, these frequent power outages caused a lot of damage to households, producers and manufacturers and people become querulous to the last degree.

This year, however, the situation has changed drastically and heavy precipitations in spring almost completely filled the country’s dams and it is expected that hydropower plants will go on full potential and compensate last year’s shortages.

However, on the verge of the new hot season, suddenly a huge jump in electricity consumption was reported by the energy ministry so that the consumption in the peak hours of Sunday April 19, exceeded 43500 MW while the figure stood at 38243 MW the same day last year, according to the ministry data.

Consequently, the possibility of changing office hours of the state bodies and non-governmental public institutes has also surfaced in many news bulletins and therefore questions like “haven’t the rainfalls solved the country’s electricity shortage problem?” or “Should we expect power outages again?!” are once again raised.

To answer such questions, first we need to answer some important questions, that is, how much electricity the country's hydropower plants can really generate?, and how the wheatear is going to be in the upcoming months?, and how much the country’s total power generation capacity has increased since last year?

Rainfalls and hydropower generation

As I mentioned, the current Iranian calendar year (started on March 21) kicked off with great amount of rainfalls across the country. According to Iran’s energy ministry’s head of dams operation office, up to date, over 40.9 billion cubic meters of water is stored behind the country’s dams. 

The inflow of water into the country’s 178 major dams stood at 71.6 billion cubic meters since the beginning of the current year, which is 277 percent more than last year’s same period, according to Vahid Asgarinejad.

The data provided by the energy ministry also shows that, on average, 82 percent of the total capacity of Iran’s dams is currently full.

Considering the above figures and their comparison to last year’s data, we can be quite optimistic about the performance of the country’s hydropower plants this year.

But how much electricity do these power plants generate? Would that be enough to compensate for the jump in the consumption patterns during the hot season?

According to the Head of Iran’s Thermal Power Plants Holding Company, Abdolrasoul Pishahang, hydroelectric power plants account for 19 percent of the country’s total nominal power generation capacity.

Iran’s current nominal power generation capacity stands at about 81,000 megawatts (MW), so the share of hydropower plants stands at nearly 15,000 MW. However, this figure is not in fact the actual production and it is, as mentioned, just nominal.

According to the Energy Minister Reza Ardakanian, actual electricity output from hydropower plants was 8,000 MW last summer.

Considering the “more than satisfactory” rainfalls, according to the Iranian Energy Ministry’s spokesman Mahmoud Haqifam, the country’s hydropower plants are expected to generate 4500 MW to 5000 MW more electricity this year.

Gap between generation and consumption

According to a report by Tasnim news agency, last year just before the beginning of the hot season, Iran’s actual power generation stood at 52,400 MW while the peak consumption reached higher than 57,000 MW.

As we can see, there was a nearly 5,000MW gap between production and consumption which was compensated by imposing blackouts.

In December 2018, Haqifam told Tasnim that the ministry managed to reduce the consumption by about 5000 MW by cutting the power in the peak consumption hours. 

So far we can conclude that in order to avoid power outages, the energy ministry should manage to add 5000 mw of new capacity or reduce the consumption by that amount.

But, this is just one side of the picture. Based on the energy ministry’s annual data, every year the electricity consumption in the country increases by about 4 to 5 percent. This year too, the ministry has predicted a 5 percent increase in the energy consumption across the country. This means, alongside the mentioned 5000 MW shortage, we should also account for yet another 4000 MW (5% of 81,000MW).

Therefore, in order to avoid blackouts during the summer, the energy ministry should take into account a 9000MW gap in their calculations.

What to expect?

Even if the country’s hydropower plants generate 5000 MW more electricity this year as said by Haqifam, there would still be a 4000MW shortage to cover.

It should also be noted that Iran has increased its electricity generation capacity by only 500 megawatts (MW) since the beginning of the current Iranian calendar year and even considering the increase in comparison to the last year’s H1 generation capacity which was 79,325 MW, still the 1175 MW of newly added capacity cannot make a big deference.

Going through all these numbers and mathematics, we can fairly conclude that even this year’s blissful rainfalls would not be able to fully compensate the unbalance between the country’s electricity generation and the demand during the peak period.

So it all comes to the consumers to make it their mission to manage their consumption during the summer’s peak period and prevent going through excruciating hours of heat and disconnection.

EF/MA

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