The Copperbelt Energy Corporation Plc (CEC) is a Zambian incorporated power transmission, generation and distribution Company with interests in closely linked businesses, including optic fibre based telecommunications, in Zambia and the Sub-Saharan African region. The privately-owned power utility is listed on the Lusaka Securities Exchange and is a member of the Southern African Power pool (SAPP).
CEC’s mandate is primarily to supply value-added electricity and other power-related solutions and services to mining companies in the Copperbelt province of Zambia and in the Katanga region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Mining is Zambia’s economic backbone and energy its lifeblood, and for a country ranked among the world’s top copper producers, second only to the DRC in Africa, it remains the country’s top foreign exchange earner and contributor to its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Thus, given the importance of this industry to the country’ s economy and the catalytic role that energy plays to facilitate and sustain mining operations, CEC’s business philosophy is rooted in the need for a dedicated power supplier to an industry with unique needs including supplying power to one of the wettest mines in the world. The Company accounts for about 50 percent of Zambia’s power consumption.
How does CEC add value to its services to sustain its customers’ unique power requirements? CEC owns and operates an extensive power infrastructure network spanning the entire Copperbelt Province covering an area of 31,000km2. CEC takes power from ZESCO at the 330/220kV bulk supply points at its Central Switching Station in Kitwe and at Luano Substation in Chingola. Using its transmission network assets in the value chain, the power is distributed to its various customers at different locations on the Copperbelt, with the value being added during the transportation of electricity through the multi-stage power transformation process.
The network is a robust collection of high voltage transmission and distribution assets consisting of cables, transformers, switchgear, associated protection, control and network monitoring equipment including advanced telecommunications and IT equipment and applications. These assets are used to transmit and transform the high voltage electricity received at different bulk supply points before it is supplied to customers at voltages usable to them.
Power received at 220kV is unusable to a customer who requires it at 11kV to power pieces of equipment that may require even lower voltages of up to 550 volts. Hence, the CEC network carries the power received from ZESCO at high voltage all the way to a customer’s operation and steps it down, through various transformation stages, to the correct voltage for use by that customer.
Given how critical power is to mining operations, CEC owns and operates thermal power generating plants, known as Gas Turbine Alternators (GTAs), totalling 80MW of installed generation capacity. These plants serve as standby or emergency power supply facilities in the event of loss of power supply from the national grid. The GTAs are located at strategic locations on the CEC network for the primary purpose of generating emergency power to enable critical operations such as ventilation for the safety of miners undertaking underground operations, hoisting equipment to evacuate such miners to safety, pumping out water to avert any damage that may arise from flooding, and to enable the resumption of normal operations when grid power is restored. The GTAs can also be deployed to supplement supply from the national grid in instances of power generation deficit.
From the above, it can be said that reliability of power supply is essential to sustain mining operations. Reliability is also achieved through the availability of spare capacity which is in-built in CEC’s transmission and distribution network. This spare capacity is technically referred to as “N-1” contingency which entails that any single circuit can be taken out of the system for maintenance or due to a fault without interrupting power supply to the customer.
The reliability of the CEC network is owing, in large part, to its equipment maintenance practices and a policy of continual and strategic renewal and replacement of ageing assets, which result in a very low equipment failure rate. Reliability is measured by how many times critical equipment develops faults to the extent that power supply to customers is interrupted or impacted.
CEC has invested and continues to invest considerably in its transmission network and related assets on the Copperbelt; making the density of the CEC power network arguably the highest per square kilometre in the country. This facilitates relatively easy and cost-effective connection for the Company’s new customers as well as existing customers as they expand their operations.
In what is referred to as its domestic wheeling business segment, CEC uses its network to carry ZESCO’s incoming power from the bulk supply points to its 11kV supply points where ZESCO takes over and distributes the power to its various customers, mainly domestic and light industrial users on the Copperbelt.
Meeting its customers’ stringent quality of supply requirements, innovating to continuously add value to the benefit of customers and incentivising mining sector investments are all key to the successful delivery of the CEC’s business model.