Copperbelt Energy Corporation – Powering Mining

The Copperbelt Energy Corporation Plc provides power to Zambia’s mining industry in the Copperbelt with its robust power infrastructure.

Copperbelt Energy Corporation Plc (CEC) is a power utility company that’s been in existence for over 60 years, providing energy transmission and distribution services to the country’s Copperbelt and into the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It has been a listed company on Zambia’s Lusaka Securities Exchange since 2008. Over the decades, CEC has been the backbone supporting Zambia’s growing mining industry, and its longevity is a testament to its ability to reliably deliver power solutions necessary to ensure its customers can continue their own operations.

The company has built itself an unrivalled track record supported by a wealth of experience, giving new and existing mining operations peace of mind that their power requirements are well taken care of. Zambia is among the top copper mining countries in the world, second only to the DRC in Africa, and it is undeniable that CEC’s dependable and robust power offering has played a key role in maintaining that position and unlocking the country’s development.

“We pride ourselves on being a reliable power supplier,” says Vincent Nyirenda, Chief Projects Officer of CEC. “We are linked to the very critical copper mining industry in the country, and so our network services and how we deploy our staff is aligned with providing fail-safe power. We have redundancies in place so that if there is an emergency that requires critical power, we can very quickly provide that to our customer. We back that up with a very solid HSE management system, so we’ve not had a fatality for more than ten years.”

CEC’s reliability is built on two critical pillars – well thought out infrastructure deployment and a highly qualified technical staff.

By virtue of its infrastructure deployment, as well as having a very technically qualified staff, the company is able to focus on customer delivery as its priority in a safe and environmentally conscious manner,” Nyirenda says. “We have a network that is properly maintained, effectively and efficiently, and a modern state-of-the-art system control centre that allows us to monitor the entire network at all times and be responsive with workable solutions to our customers’ power requirements.”

A Utility Supplier Tied to a Commodity Market

To Nyirenda, CEC’s history and future success are inextricably linked with that of Zambia’s copper mining industry. It is a prosperous sector to be tied to, but it does bring unique challenges with it.

“Our business is essentially linked to the copper mining industry,” Nyirenda says. “Our key customers in both Zambia and DRC are mining customers, so when commodity prices dip we face attendant challenges. In such times, mines wouldn’t be expanding but would more likely contract their operations, and that affects how much development or expansion happens and, in turn, the amount of power demanded or consumed. Over the years we’ve found that when commodity prices dip, we feel the shock of that.”

Having been through a number of such cycles has enabled CEC to develop coping strategies to deal with the dips.

“We have devised ways of handling those dips by being resilient and efficient in how we deliver our services to customers,” Nyirenda says. “When you have constraints in terms of demand it is easy to look at the cost structure and adjust accordingly to ride the changes in the market.”

Indeed, CEC’s long-term experience and deep knowledge of the sector provide it with all the understanding it needs to navigate these challenges.

We have a deep insight into servicing mining customers,” Nyirenda says proudly. “It helps because we understand their needs and can prepare for those times. With that foresight, we can adjust and implement strategy accordingly. Insights to servicing the mining industry underpin our ability to meet these challenges.”

Of course, that insight comes from the people CEC employs, and Nyirenda is a strong believer in taking talent wherever it comes from.

“We’re an equal opportunity employer and we have a graduate development programme in place as well as continuous learning and development programme. We also have a very good employee value proposition to attract the best available talent on the market,” he insists. “We invest in education for our staff. They are provided with support and the opportunity to develop themselves. Apart from that we also have a collaboration with institutions of higher learning, which we believe helps to attract the best candidates to join CEC.”

Powering Talent

Collaborations with learning institutions are helping to pave the way for the next generation of CEC’s talent.

“We have worked with the University of Zambia to put in place a learning substation and electrical training facility. We have also worked with Copperbelt University, where we developed a solar training curriculum at university, in collaboration with the German development agency. The curriculum runs conjunctively with a 1MW solar PV park developed by CEC in very close proximity to the university and to which students have access,” Nyirenda tells us. “Students visit the solar plant and study solar power, and our staff are available to support any training or learning objectives these institutions have. It exposes us to the best and brightest minds.”

Education is a key focus area for CEC. It is vital to the future of the energy and mining industries – the two industries of primary importance to CEC. However, CEC sees education not just as a tool for building the next generation of the company’s talent but also as a catalyst for people to build better lives for themselves and their families, communities, and society at large.

CEC supports schools, ranging from community to public schools, through the construction of school infrastructure and the provision of learning and teaching materials.

This is not just about human resources for Nyirenda though, and talking with him, it is clear he cares about using CEC to help improve education for all Zambians.

Nyirenda explains, “We have a CSR programme. Obviously, it is primarily linked to the areas where we operate and do business, but we also go further afield. We have a football team fully sponsored by the company which plays in the country’s top league. In the environmental space, we have a reforestation project and are planting trees to mitigate vegetation loss impacts on the climate and to ensure we contribute to reducing our carbon footprint. Our health initiatives support national government responses and local health institutions.”

It is all geared towards building a brighter future for Zambia.

“Our key thrust is to contribute to defining Zambia’s future energy agenda and continue to innovate as it relates to our operations and the link with the wider society and the need for sustainability through learning, health, the environment, sport and other interventions,” Nyirenda says. “We hope it will unlock a path to further innovate the energy and development agenda for the country.”

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