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First Quantum in talks with utility to improve Zambia’s grid efficiency

Zesco representatives recently visited one of FQM's mines

Zesco representatives recently visited one of FQM's mines

14th February 2024

By: Tasneem Bulbulia

Senior Contributing Editor Online

     

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Stabilisation of the national power grid is a prerequisite to increasing Zambia’s copper production to three-million tonnes a year, says miner First Quantum Minerals (FQM).

Ensuring that power was available ahead of increased mine production, and that this power was efficiently transmitted through the national grid, was imperative, the company emphasised.

FQM, the country’s largest power user, hosted engineers from State-owned power company Zesco this week at its Trident mine in Kalumbila as part of ongoing discussions to improve the efficiency of Zambia’s power supply.

Experts from the power utility were given a tour of the mine and discussed the operation’s electrical systems and maintenance procedures before taking part in a workshop on grid stabilisation across North-Western province.

“The visit follows the historic 100% renewable power supply agreement signing that took place in early November of 2023. That power supply agreement signing marked a new era in FQM's relationship with Zesco.

“An era that is marked by collaboration, and a real desire to participate jointly in solutions to increase power supply in Zambia and also to increase the amount of grid stability in Zambia as well,” said FQM infrastructure development lead Jed Goldstein.

He added that these were both key imperatives to be able to support President Hakainde Hichilema’s vision of increasing copper production in Zambia to three-million tonnes a year, with FQM supportive of this and keen to assist Zesco to facilitate it.

An improved grid system would reduce power outages in the mining sector, which resulted in the loss of an estimated 35 t of copper production each time the power failed. At the current copper price of around $8 300/t, that equated to a loss of foreign exchange earnings of $33.3-million a year along with associated tax revenue lost to government coffers, FQM pointed out.

It highlighted that stabilisation of the grid would also pave the way for the country to increase solar and wind power generation, which had been constrained in part owing to the destabilising effect of intermittent solar and wind power on current transmission infrastructure.

Speaking after touring the mine, Zesco Systems Operations senior manager Lioko Sitali said the power utility had considered all the planned growth to be able to provide the power that would be needed to support the growth in the mining industry.

“We have taken into consideration all the plans that have been set out on the increased throughput from the mining industry, and Zesco is positioning itself to ensure that we have enough power to support this projected growth."

FQM produces half of Zambia’s copper, and electricity is its single largest cost. The company spends more than $250-million a year on electricity from Zesco.

In November last year, FQM and Zesco entered into a landmark ten-year renewable power supply agreement, which the company said marked a milestone in cooperation and securing a sustainable energy supply for FQM’s Trident and Kansanshi mines.

In line with Zesco’s strategy to integrate independent power producers, FQM is also exploring an offtake arrangement with TotalEnergies for its 430 MW hybrid solar/wind project.

The integration of this project into the Zambian grid is expected to considerably boost the country’s renewable energy capacity and contribute to its environmental sustainability goals.

“First Quantum is committed to working collaboratively with Zesco, with the Road Development Agency and the Zambia Development Agency, on a whole host of initiatives to support the mineral value chain and to unlock Zambia as a major mining power,” Goldstein mentioned.

Edited by Chanel de Bruyn
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online

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