Power gradually returned on Tuesday in the three Central Asian countries hit by a gigantic power outage of unknown cause that affected millions of residents and caused major infrastructure disruptions.
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“After a widespread power failure, the power supply has been restored throughout Kyrgyzstan,” a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Energy told the AFP news agency in the afternoon after several hours of power failure.
For its part, the Uzbek ministry said that “electricity supply to the country’s regions is gradually being restored.”
Also in Kazakhstan, AFP journalists noted the return of electricity to the city of Almaty, while the situation in other urban centers in the south of the country remained unknown.
Much of Almaty, the economic capital of Kazakhstan, remained without power around noon local time (0600 GMT), as did the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, and the capital of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek. The Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan, which is connected to a different network, was not affected.
According to the media and authorities, large parts of the provinces in the three countries are also affected by the cuts.
The electrical interdependence of the three countries is very high due to a regional grid inherited from the Soviet era.
And despite investments in their energy systems since gaining independence three decades ago, these three former Soviet republics regularly experience power outages, sometimes severe ones.
Breakdown of the Decade
The Uzbek Energy Ministry said the incident was linked to an accident in Kazakhstan’s power grid.
“The Uzbek power grid, which is connected to the unified power grid, was damaged after an accident that caused sudden voltage and frequency changes on 530 lines (from) Kazakhstan,” he said.
These cuts are due to “an accident affecting the regional energy grid,” the Kyrgyz Ministry of Energy told AFP without further details.
Kegoc, the Kazakh electricity company, reported an “electrical overload” without explaining the origin of the anomaly.
Airports were disrupted across the region, Tashkent grounded flights for a while and Manas International Airport in Bishkek reduced operations and turned to an emergency power source.
In Bishkek, too, power outages shut down pumping stations, affecting the distribution of running water.
The Tashkent metro, the main one in the region, also stopped, an AFP journalist noted.
According to Russian authorities, almost 80 skiers stranded in cable cars had to be rescued in a ski resort near Tashkent.
Crypto, energy hole
In Central Asian countries, power grids suffered from a severe summer drought that affected hydroelectric capacity in Kyrgyzstan, a major regional producer.
On the other hand, the boom in the production (“mining”) of cryptocurrencies in the region, especially in Kazakhstan, has increased the demand for electricity and caused tensions in the grid.
This boom is due to a ban on this activity in neighboring China, as well as a surge in cryptocurrencies like bitcoin.
Tuesday’s power outage is the region’s biggest “in at least a decade,” according to Sergei Kondratyev, an expert at the Russian think tank Institute of Energy and Finance.
“The main reason for these accidents is the lack of coordination of the dispatch services,” he told the AFP news agency.
The Central Asian countries have a unified energy system that was designed to optimize costs in Soviet times, he explains. “But all these countries have been making decisions based on their interests for twenty years.”
However, “the interaction of the shipping services of the three countries is necessary, because a problem that is not solved in a few minutes can lead to a breakdown,” says the expert.
Last fall, several countries in Central Asia had already experienced significant cuts, which illustrates the dilapidated state and interdependence of the power grids.
The population of the five Central Asian countries has also grown significantly over the past thirty years, from 51 to 75 million.