Monday, June 28, 2010

Iraq's Power Problem and China's Solution

The biggest complaint among small business owners in Iraq is the lack of electrical power.  Most small manufacturers have their own generators, but the operating costs are so high that it doesn't make sense to use them.  Power is available, but in unscheduled blocks of 1.5 to 2 hours, delivered every 4 to 6 hours.  Imagine that you are attempting to produce plastic parts, and your machines take 90 minutes to warm up.  You aren't going to make many parts with 1.5 hours of power.

Billions of dollars have been spent repairing the electrical grid in Iraq, and much progress has been made.  Still, it will be several more years before all the citizens of Iraq have reliable electrical power.

During the peak of China's growth, China faced a similar shortage of electrical power, and the solution the Chinese government adopted offers a basis for a solution in Iraq:

1.  When I was working in China, my company opened a new manufacturing facility.  The local government was unable to meet all of our power demands.  We simply received a schedule, telling us when we would have full power and when we wouldn't (we didn't have power for 2 days each week).  We were able to schedule our work around power availability.  Though the situation in Iraq is more extreme, the Iraqi government could provide a power schedule to industrial areas.  While in Iraq, I was able to convince the Ministry of Electricity to provide a scheduled block of power to the factories I was working with.  The benefit was enormous, and new factories opened in the area as a result.

2.  The Chinese provide power preferentially to business.  Iraqi government employees provide power preferentially to themselves.  Obviously, there's some room for improvement here.

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