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Record-Breaking Heat Has Led To Widespread Power Outages In The Middle East

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

High heat is visibly affecting athletes at the Tokyo Olympics. Meanwhile, the central U.S. is baking in a heat dome. But in parts of Iraq and Iran, high temperatures reached more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit today. And throughout the Middle East, extreme heat has spiked demand for energy, which means widespread power outages affecting millions. Protesters are demanding better access to utilities. And joining us now to talk more about all of this is Yesar Al-Maleki. He's an energy scholar at the Middle East Institute.

Welcome.

YESAR AL-MALEKI: Thank you for having me.

CHANG: So help us understand the scope of this. How bad are these power outages right now?

AL-MALEKI: Well, we are seeing increased electricity demand and shortages across the board. So it used to be a normal case, say, in Iraq, where they had a lot of shortages. But now we are seeing Iran. We are seeing countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council, like Kuwait and others, and also Lebanon and Egypt.

CHANG: Wow.

AL-MALEKI: So there are worse cases and best cases. So in the best cases, there are ordered shutdowns. There are rolling partial blackouts, especially, say, in Kuwait. But the worst cases, you have long blackouts and people resorting to using backup generators. So as you said...

CHANG: Yeah.

AL-MALEKI: ...You are seeing a lot of protests in Iran and Iraq, for instance...

CHANG: Well...

AL-MALEKI: ...People blocking highways and burning tires.

CHANG: ...In your view, how much of these system failures is due to the extreme weather, and how much is it a reflection of just the region's power infrastructure?

AL-MALEKI: Well, both cases - so what we are seeing is that the summer is becoming hotter earlier in the year. And this, of course, is coupled with increased demand for electricity for air conditioning. Also, we are seeing a drought. So, for instance, in Iran, they lost around 15% of the nameplate capacity of electricity, available electricity because hydropower dropped by 50%. And this is the basis for the Khuzestan protests, where eight people were killed during these protests. At the same time, we're seeing a lot of project delays in 2019 and 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CHANG: Right.

AL-MALEKI: And then you add to that the fact that many of these countries are oil producers. And they have been part of the OPEC-plus pact - so the gas production. So gas is very important because it is the base fuel for electricity generation there. And because they are producing less oil, there is less associated gas that goes to the power stations. So you have - all of these factors are playing together.

Of course, with the summer, it is quite clear that it is becoming much hotter than it used to be. So the demand becomes much higher earlier in the year than compared...

CHANG: I see.

AL-MALEKI: ...To the previous years.

CHANG: And where exactly are these protests happening right now in the region?

AL-MALEKI: So you have Iraq, especially in the south, and Basra, which is one of the hottest cities in the region. And you have also Iran and Khuzestan province, again, because you are coupling two things together. You're coupling a drought and power provision problems. So you have a lot of people protesting because water is also not available. And, of course, you have Lebanon. But Lebanon is also a special case because of the economic meltdown that the country is going through.

CHANG: Right.

That is Yesar Al-Maleki. He is a scholar at the Middle East Institute. Thank you very much for joining us today.

AL-MALEKI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.