China is returning to coal with a vengeance while India threatens to run out of it entirely.
Supply chains are disrupted around the globe and inflation is on the rise worldwide.
In Kazakhstan, the government has kept energy prices artificially low, but that has invited a new and unforeseen challenge: the rise of cryptocurrency mining is now compounding the energy crisis.
Mining cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin requires massive amounts of energy.
The process involves solving extremely complex proof of work calculations that require massive amounts of computational energy.
Cryptocurrencies are now under increasing scrutiny for their ecological impact and the threat they pose to climate change mitigation goals.
Now, some governments are starting to crack down on crypto, due to the threats it poses to the climate as well as to established currencies and the global economy as a whole.
Even China, which was once synonymous with the large-scale Bitcoin mining sector, imposed a blanket ban on cryptocurrency trading and mining in September.
Now, Chinese crypto miners are pouring over the border into neighboring Kazakhstan, where energy is cheap and government agencies are ill-equipped to root out illegal mining operations.
Seemingly overnight, Kazakhstan has found itself hosting the 2nd-biggest crypto sector on Earth, after the U.S.
Now, both legal white and illegal gray crypto mining operations are sucking the Kazakh grids dry at the height of a global energy crisis.
Defenders of cryptocurrency, and particularly Bitcoin, have argued in the past that operations are largely powered by renewables and their carbon footprint is over-exaggerated -- a claim based on dubious grounds.
In Kazakhstan, however, there is no pretending that crypto-mining is being powered by clean energy.
The country is almost entirely powered by coal, and the recent proliferation of crypto mining will make it all but impossible for the country to meet its climate goals.
Eric Livny, regional economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, says:
- What we have in Kazakhstan is heavy reliance on coal with very low prices...
- But this creates very big problems in meeting the obligations that Kazakhstan has taken on with regards to making the economy greener
While many of these illegal operations can be well-hidden in basements or abandoned warehouses, experts say that they can be located using satellites equipped with heat-sensing technologies.
Kazakhstan Deputy Energy Minister Murat Zhurebekov was quoted earlier this month:
- I think we will have the directive [limiting power to unregistered miners] issued before the end of this year, because this issue cannot be delayed any longer