ALMATY: An electricity grid accident left millions of people in three Central Asian countries without power yesterday, idling subway trains, disrupting flights and trapping people in lifts. Kazakhstan's economic hub Almaty and the capitals of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan suffered power cuts close to lunchtime, with media and officials reporting that the blackouts had extended far into the provinces of the three countries.

Uzbekistan's energy ministry said in a statement that the power outage had been triggered by a "major accident" in Kazakhstan's power grid. At the main airport in Tashkent, a city of more than two million people, flights were briefly interrupted due to the outage, but electricity was coming back in the afternoon. Uzbekistan's energy ministry recommended that gas and electric appliances be temporarily turned off "in order to prevent accidents" while the electricity supply is being restored.

But the city's metro, the largest in the region, had ceased working, an AFP correspondent noted, adding that tap water was barely running. At a ski resort close to Tashkent, videos shared on the Telegram messaging service appeared to show skiers stuck on chair lifts at a ski resort close to Tashkent.

Traffic lights in Almaty that had failed during the power cut began to work again in the afternoon. An AFP correspondent in central Bishkek reported the return of electricity in an apartment close to the mayor's office. Municipal authorities in the Kyrgyz capital said they had evacuated 45 people from lifts in apartment buildings.

Crypto power use

Central Asian countries have seen their grids burdened by a summer drought that affected hydropower capacity in Kyrgyzstan and by a boom in energy-hungry cryptocurrency mining in the region, especially in Kazakhstan. The growth of cryptocurrency mining in Kazakhstan was linked in part to a de facto ban on the practice in next-door China, and a spike in prices for volatile cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin in the second half of last year.

Southern Kazakhstan, which traditionally endures energy deficits and relies on supplies from the electricity-rich north of the country, was especially affected by the influx. Sergei Kondratyev, an expert with the Moscow-based Institute for Energy and Finance Foundation, said the blackout was the most serious electricity collapse to hit the region "for at least a decade". "The main reason for such accidents is the lack of coordination in the actions of dispatching services," Kondratyev told AFP by telephone.

"In Central Asia, there is a unified dispatching service, coordination of actions takes place at a high level. And here, the interaction of the dispatching services of the three countries is necessary, as a problem that is not solved within a few minutes can lead to a blackout."

In the long-term, climate change will affect regional power generation negatively, Kondratyev added, with grids in both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan dependent on hydropower stations fed by glacial rivers.

Power surge

Uzbekistan's energy ministry said there were power outages in the southern Kazakh cities of Almaty, Shymkent, Taras, as well as the Turkestan region and adjacent areas. "The Uzbek power grid, which is connected to the Unified Power Grid, was damaged as a result of an accident that led to sudden changes in voltage and frequency on 530 lines from Kazakhstan," it added.

A spokesman for Kyrgyzstan's energy ministry told AFP that power had failed "due to an accident in the regional energy grid". Kazakhstan's national electricity provider KEGOS said that "due to a significant emergency imbalance created by the energy system of Central Asia (Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan), there was a surge in power for the transit of electricity" between grids in Kazakhstan. - AFP