Central Asian blackout

Written by The Frontier Post

Sergey Savchuk

On Thursday, power supply was fully restored in Uzbe-kistan after a large-scale failure that occurred on Tuesday, which covered almost the entire region.
It is known that key infr-astructure facilities rema-ined de-energized in the re-public for quite a long time: the airport and metro in Tashkent , where there was no drinking water for alm-ost a day, the water supply and sewerage did not work, and the heating was turned off. In the Kyrgyz capital, the operation of the country’s main airport froze, pumping equipment stopped at water towers, the traffic control system failed, in some cities there was no electricity at all, plunging large settlements into darkness and silence.
In Kazakhstan , the failure of the power system w-as observed only in the so-uthern part of the country, in the region of Alma-Ata, Shymkent , Taraz and in the Turkestan region, but there it was of a very large scale.
Scattered information comes from Turkmenistan, but the wave of darkness has reached there too.
Interestingly, the parties affected by the accident immediately rushed to blame each other. Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan said that the blame lies with Kazakhstan. The latter, in response, made claims that the power surge in the section of the main power transmission line between the Karaganda and Zhambyl regions was the fault of Tashkent and Bishkek , which allowed an emergency imbalance in the unified energy system of Central Asia (CA IPS).
At the moment, the power supply has been restored almost everywhere, but the event itself has much deeper roots and not the most pleasant consequences for all participants, who are also closely connected with our country.
The parties can exchange claims as much as they like, but we will start from the facts. It is worth starting with the fact that the accident occurred somewhere on the North-East-South of Kazakhstan transit section. According to the assertion of the Kyrgyz side, which their Kazakh neighbors did not even think to refute, the emergency opening circuit breaker worked, as a result of which the flows – not only to the south of Kazakhstan, but also further abroad – fell by one and a half thousand megawatts at once.
And here, in full growth, a problem arises, which is rarely written and spoken about.
Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan form the so-called Central Asian energy ring. It was designed and created more than half a ce-ntury ago, namely at the end of the 1960s. Soviet p-ower engineers faced a task comparable in complexity to the biblical one. Only they had not to feed several thousand people with three loaves, but to figure out how, with a poor set of tools, to ensure uninterrupted supplies of electricity to several republics at once, where light industry and agriculture were rapidly developing in parallel. And the solution was found.
Since all the national republics were part of a single state, there was no question of cross-border coordination and the system worked, controlled from the coordination and dispatch center in Tashkent. Kazakhstan was assigned the role of the main transit artery: seven energy bridg-es came from the RSFSR at once, through which much-needed megawatts went south, primarily to Uzbekistan, where there was and still is a significant energy shortage.
Both Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan supplied electricity to the main cotton granary of the USSR . A significant part of both countries is mountains, and therefore a logical decision was made to rely on hydroelectric power plants. It should be noted that the Tajiks and Kyrgyz inherited almost eighty reservoirs of various sizes, on which dams with installed hydroelectric units were formed. But it would be a mistake to think that these two republics did not know the problems.
A single energy ring implied that in the autumn-winter period, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan should accumulate water in order to release it in the hot Asian summer, generating electricity for themselves and their neighbors, simultaneously providing irrigation for the cotton fields of Uz-bekistan. Accordingly, during the period of cold wea-ther, Tajikistan and Kyrgy-zstan themselves experienced a shortage of electricity and compensated for it with supplies of fuel oil and coal “from the mainland.” If we talk about the ratio of hydro and thermal generation here, then water resources account for thirty percent of production, and thermal stations provide the remaining seventy.
The Central Asian energy ring worked perfectly until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Along with the parade of sovereignties began a period of strife and endless difficulties. Each of the parties used its inherited infrastructural capabilities as instruments of local cross-border influence. Claims from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan regarding the supply of electricity and water have become as commonplace as the annual Russian showdown with Ukraine , which either stole gas or demanded a revision of prices and contracts.
The unified energy system by inertia lasted until 2003, when Turkmenistan withdrew from it, and in 2009 left Tajikistan. The countries of the region diverged farther and farther in different directions, adopting and not coordinating with their neighbors profile laws, tariffing and taxation mechanisms. All this utterly complicated the already difficult system of mutual supplies, leading to regular shutdowns.
Among the reasons for this situation, two key circumstances should be mentioned. The first is that the population within the conditional boundaries of the former energy ring has grown significantly since the collapse of the USSR. The numerical composition of Uzbekistan since 1991 has increased from twenty to thirty-four million people. The population of Tajikistan has doubled and today is almost ten million, Kazakhstan has shown an increase of two and a half million souls, Kyrgyzstan – plus two, and Turkmenistan – plus three million citizens.
That is, electricity consumption and, accordingly, the load on the networks increased by at least 2-2.5 times. And this is despite the fact that not a single large modern generation facility like the Belarusian NPP has been built in any of the listed countries . That is, all participants in the scheme are forced to constantly look for opportunities for imports, and Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan in the summer also face the question of where to put the surplus and buy electricity abroad in winter. Such is the complex economy.
And here we are smoothly approaching the second pitfall, which our southern neighbors ran into. Overloaded under the new conditions, the vast majority of national power grids come from the Soviet Union, their average age exceeds 35 years. This leads not only to constant accidents and breakdowns, but also to large transmission losses. It is known that Kazakhstan annually loses from seven to twenty percent of electricity due to the deterioration of networks, it is extremely difficult to find such data for its neighbors, but the situation there is definitely no better. Governments understand this, but an obstacle stands in the way of modernization, perfectly described by the hero of a famous cartoon: in order to sell something unnecessary, you need to buy something unnecessary, but we have no money.
It is true that the budgets of the listed countries cannot afford the mass re-laying of power cables and the replacement of power lines. The lack of generation could potentially be solved with the help of Kazakh coal, the reserves of which in the Ekibastuz basin alone are estimated at ten billion tons, but international fi-nancial institutions, loyal to the global green agenda, re-fuse to invest in projects r-elated to the extraction of fossil fuels, and especially coal . Time passes, the population of all five countries is growing, networks are aging, and new ones are not replacing old thermal po-wer plants. Vicious circle.
And at this point of historical awareness, the question arises: how to solve this complex and systemic problem. There really aren’t that many options.
Thirty years later, it is clear that the participants in the CA IPS are unlikely to be able to agree among themselves, which means that an external arbitrator or even, if you like, an external manager is required.
Only one country is suitable for this role due to its political, financial and technical capabilities.
It was from her that Kazakhstan a couple of months ago asked for any amount of free electricity in order to save itself from rolling blackouts. It is building low-power nuclear power plants (LNPPs), in which Armenia is showing an active interest and for which Kyrgyzstan has indicated a need. The construction of conventional nuclear power plants has been put on stream, one such station is already producing current in Belarus , and Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, who have concluded preliminary agreements, want exactly the same as soon as possible. She also completed the technical equipment of her own state district power station and accumulated practical experience that would be very useful in the mountains of Tajikistan. This country is building floating nuclear power plants, nuclear icebreakers and gives government loans for the construction of new generation facilities. It remains only to remember what this country is called.

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The Frontier Post