FQM and ZESCO in talks to improve national grid efficiency

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Stabilisation of the national power grid is a prerequisite to increasing Zambia’s copper production to 3 million tonnes a year, says First Quantum Minerals (FQM).

The need to ensure that power is available ahead of new mine production, and that this power is efficiently transmitted through the national grid cannot be over emphasised, said the company.

The message came as the country’s largest power user hosted engineers from ZESCO this week at its Trident mine in Kalumbila as part of on-going discussions to improve the efficiency of the nation’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 First Quantum’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. These are both key imperatives to be able to support the President’s vision of increasing copper production in Zambia to 3 million tonnes.

First Quantum is supportive of President Hichilema’s vision, and wants to do all it can to help realise that goal, and we are very excited to be working with ZESCO, to enable the power system to be able to support that vision and achieve it.,” said FQM Lead of Infrastructure Development, Jed Goldstein.

An improved grid system will reduce power outages in the mining sector, which result in the loss of an estimated 35 tonnes of copper production each time the power fails. At the current copper price of around US$8,300 per tonne that equates to a loss of foreign exchange earnings of US$33.3 million/year along with associated tax revenue lost to government coffers.

Stabilisation of the grid also paves the way for the country to increase solar and wind power generation, which has been constrained in part due to the destabilising effect of intermittent solar and wind power on current transmission infrastructure.

Speaking after touring the mine, Senior Manager, Systems Operations at ZESCO Lioko Sitali said the power utility had taken into account all the planned growth to be able to provide the power that will 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. ZESCO has taken into account all the planned growth be able to provide the power that will be needed to support this growth in the mining Industry,” he continued.

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

In November last year FQM and ZESCO entered into a landmark 10-year renewable Power Supply Agreement (PSA), marking a new era of 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 (IPPs), FQM is also exploring an off-take arrangement with TotalEnergies for its 430 MW hybrid solar/wind project. The integration of this project into the Zambian grid will significantly boost Zambia’s renewable energy capacity and contribute to the country’s environmental sustainability goals.

“A reliable grid is foundational to copper production, particularly as more copper miners come online. Recently, Lumwana announced a big expansion and Kansanshi has its US$1.25 billion S3 expansion that will increase its life of mine by at least 20 years. One of the reasons why mining investors are willing to invest so much capital in Zambia, and have confidence in Zambia, is because of ZESCO’s capability to run an effective grid and to provide reliable power for the sophisticated machinery and equipment that modern mining requires.

First Quantum is committed to working collaboratively with ZESCO, with the Road Development Agency (RDA) and the Zambia Development Agency (ZDA), on a whole host of initiatives to support the mineral value chain and to unlock Zambia as a major mining power,” said Mr Goldstein.

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