Gradual return of power in Central Asia after a gigantic blackout

Electricity gradually returned on Tuesday in the three Central Asian countries affected by a gigantic accidental blackout of as yet unknown origin, which hit millions of inhabitants and caused major infrastructure disruptions.

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“Electricity supply has resumed throughout Kyrgyzstan after a large-scale power outage,” a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Energy told AFP in the afternoon, after several hours of blackout. .

The Uzbek ministry for its part indicated that “the electricity supply of the regions of the country is being gradually restored”.

Also in Kazakhstan, AFP journalists noted the return of electricity to the city of Almaty, the situation in other urban centers in the south of the country remaining unknown.

Much of Almaty, the economic capital of Kazakhstan, was left without electricity around noon local time (0600 GMT), as were the capital of Uzbekistan, Tashkent, and that of Kyrgyzstan, Bishkek. The Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan, connected to a different network, was not affected.

According to media and authorities, the cuts have also affected large swaths of the provinces in the three countries.

The electricity interdependence of the three countries is very high due to a regional network inherited from the Soviet era.

And despite investments in their energy systems since their independence three decades ago, these three former Soviet republics regularly experience power cuts, sometimes severe.

Breakdown of the decade

The Uzbek Energy Ministry said the incident was linked to an accident on the Kazakhstan grid.

“Uzbekistan’s energy network, which is connected to the unified energy network, was damaged following an accident that caused sudden changes in voltage and frequency on 530 lines (coming from) Kazakhstan,” he said. -He specifies.

These cuts are due to “an accident affecting the regional energy network”, indicated the Kyrgyz Ministry of Energy to 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, with Tashkent stopping flights for a while and Manas International Airport in Bishkek reducing operations and turning to an emergency power source.

Also in Bishkek, power cuts caused the shutdown of pumping stations, which affected the distribution of running water.

The Tashkent metro, the most important in the region, also stopped, noted an AFP journalist.

In a ski resort near Tashkent, nearly 80 skiers stranded on cable cars had to be rescued, according to Russian agencies.

Crypto, energy sinkhole

In the countries of Central Asia, the energy networks suffered from a major summer drought which affected hydroelectric capacity in Kyrgyzstan, a major regional producer.

On the other hand, the boom in the production (“mining”) of cryptocurrencies in the region, particularly in Kazakhstan, has increased the demand for electricity, leading to tensions on the network.

This boom is due to a ban on this activity in neighboring China, as well as a surge in cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.

According to Sergei Kondratiev, an expert at the Russian think tank Institute for Energy and Finance, Tuesday’s blackout is the largest in the region “for at least a decade”.

“The main reason for these accidents is the lack of coordination of dispatch services,” he told AFP.

Central Asian countries have a unified energy system designed in Soviet times to optimize costs, he explains. “But for twenty years, all these countries have been making decisions based on their interests.”

However, “the interaction of the dispatch services of the three countries is necessary, because a problem not solved in a few minutes can cause a breakdown”, according to this expert.

Last fall, several countries in Central Asia had already experienced major cuts, illustrating the dilapidated state and interdependence of electricity networks.

The population of the five Central Asian countries has also increased sharply over the past thirty years, rising from 51 to 75 million.

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