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The Chambishi copper smelter in Zambia reduces production due to power supply disruptions caused by drought.

According to two informed sources, the Chambishi copper smelter in Zambia has slashed its production by twenty percent due to power shortages in the country. Owned by the China Nonferrous Metal Mining Corporation (CNMC), this facility typically yields around 250,000 tonnes of copper annually, making it one of Africa’s largest processing plants in the continent’s second-biggest copper producer.

Zambia heavily relies on hydropower, which accounts for 87% of its electricity generation. However, the country is currently facing severe power generation challenges due to a prolonged drought, the most severe in twenty years, resulting in reduced water levels. Victor Mapani, Managing Director of the state-owned power utility Zesco, highlighted this issue.

Zesco announced plans to ration electricity starting from March 11, but sources indicate that Chambishi had already begun scaling back its operations prior to this announcement. CNMC has yet to respond to inquiries regarding the situation, although sources suggest they are contemplating installing diesel generators at the plant to mitigate the impact of the power shortages.

This shortage exacerbates the ongoing decline in Zambia’s copper production, partly attributed to the lack of new investments in major operations like Konkola Copper Mines and Mopani Copper Mines. Data from the Zambia Chamber of Mines shows a decrease in copper output from 763,000 tonnes in the previous year to 698,000 tonnes in 2023.

Smaller producers in Zambia might also feel the effects of the power shortages, although it’s too early to gauge the full extent of the impact, as per the sources. Zesco plans to convene a meeting with mining companies on March 14 to explore strategies for reclaiming about 250MW, equivalent to 20%-25% of the supply.

Victor Mapani disclosed that the Zambezi River Authority (ZRA) has significantly reduced its water allocation for electricity generation to Zambia and Zimbabwe, dropping to 16-billion cubic liters from 30-billion in 2023 and 40-billion in 2022.

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