Illustration of a typical gas-insulated switchgear Click to enlarge
Illustration of a typical gas-insulated switchgear
Source: Ecofys

Sulphur hexafluoride (SF₆), which has a very high global warming potential, is used for insulation and arc quenching in switchgear. SF₆ emissions have been successfully reduced thanks to a voluntary industry commitment. Alternative products to substitute SF₆ in various applications have been developed.


EU Regulation on fluorinated greenhouse gases

SF6 has been used for many years in electrical equipment for energy transmission and distribution in the medium-voltage and high-voltage range. Due to its high global warming potential of 24,300 (IPCC 6th Assessment Report) and its long atmospheric residence time, this substance accumulates in the atmosphere. Fluorinated alternatives fall under the PFAS definition

Electrical switchgear containing fluorinated greenhouse gases is subject to the provisions of Regulation (EU) 2024/573 on fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-Gas Regulation). Depending on the filling quantity and design, there are requirements for leakage checks, record keeping and certification of personnel. The latter is concretised by the Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/2066. References to Regulation (EU) 517/2014 are deemed to be references to this Regulation in accordance with the correlation table in Annex X of Regulation (EU) 2024/573 (Art. 37 (5)). 

Regulation (EU) 2024/573 on fluorinated greenhouse gases contains various regulations and bans on switchgear. An overview of the current and future regulations is summarised in a fact sheet on switchgear with fluorinated greenhouse gases (in German).

We would like to point out that even if the planned commissioning is before the prohibition dates of Art. 13 Para. 9, a tendering procedure can be useful. If commissioning is postponed beyond the ban dates, the operator can prove that no suitable alternative was available in time for the award of the contract.


The amount of SF6 installed in switchgear is steadily increasing. Careful handling of the equipment at the end of its life is essential to avoid the emission of this quantity or partial quantities of it. Certification for work on switchgear containing SF6 is required not only for maintenance, servicing and repair, but also for decommissioning. The operator of electrical equipment is responsible for compliance with this regulation.

From 1 January 2035, only reclaimed or recycled SF6 may be used for the maintenance or servicing of electrical switchgear. In future, recovery will therefore be of great importance not only from an environmental but also from an operator's point of view.

Project on the recovery of SF6 from electrical equipment

In the research project "Practical recovery factors for UNFCCC F-gas inventories" (duration from 2022 to 2024), country-specific emission factors for disposal are to be reviewed for high and medium voltage switchgear, among other things. In addition, the current national disposal practice for switchgear is to be examined more closely. A workshop on the topic was held with selected stakeholders in May 2023. Further research will follow. The results will be published at the end of 2024 with the final report of the project.

Project on electrical equipment

A study on the transmission and distribution of electrical energy without the use of SF6 (Konzept zur SF6-freien Übertragung und Verteilung elektrischer Energie) was being conducted on behalf of the Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMU) from 2016 to 2018. One major focus of the study was the drafting of a detailed overview of systems which do and do not use SF6. Also suitable policy, legislative, regulatory and economic measures to achieve an effective reduction of SF6 in new systems were explored. SF6 technology can only be substituted by alternative insulating media and techniques in the production of new equipments, the study focused exclusively on new devices. The intensive dialogue with manufacturers and operators throughout the project duration was very important in this context.

The project was carried out by Ecofys Germany GmbH in cooperation with ETH Zürich until February 2018. The German Environment Agency provided professional advice. After an intensive dialog with manufacturers and users through interviews and expert workshops the project was concluded with the publication of the final report (revised version) as well as a short summary.

German industry's voluntary commitment

The Federal Republic of Germany together with the German industry reached an agreement on global warming prevention on 9 November 2000. In this context, SF6 producers as well as manufacturers and operators of electrical equipment > 1kV made a voluntary agreement to reduce SF6 emissions. This agreement was first set up and signed in 2005.

During this voluntary commitment, emissions of SF6 from production and use in Germany have decreased significantly.

The chart shows that the emissions of electrical equipment in Germany has declined up to the year 1998: from approx. 50 tons in 1998 to approx. 10 tons in 2021.
Emissions of electrical equipment in Germany
Source: Umweltbundesamt