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 interruption in switchgear. SF6 emissions have been successfully reduced thanks to a voluntary industry commitment. Alternative products to substitute SF6 in various applications are developed.


EU Regulation on fluorinated greenhouse gases

SF6 has been used for many years in electrical equipment for power transmission and distribution in the medium-voltage and high-voltage range. Due to its high greenhouse potential of 23 500 (Scientifc Assessment of Ozone Depletion: 2018) or 22 800 (Regulation (EU) 517/2014) and the long atmospheric lifetime, this substance accumulates in the atmosphere.

Electrical switchgear is subject to the provisions of EU Regulation 517/2014. Depending on filling volume and construction type, different requirements apply for leakage control, record-keeping, and certification of personnel. Implementing Regulation (EU) 2015/2066 goes into greater detail concerning certification of personnel.

Article 21 of EU Regulation 517/2014 schedules an assessment of alternatives for secondary medium-voltage switchgear by 1 July 2020, with a view to submitting, where appropriate, a legislative proposal to the European Parliament and the Council amending the list in Annex III.

The Federal Environment Agency is of the opinion that there are adequate alternatives for SF6 in new medium-voltage switchgear (≤ 24 kV). We will therefore advocate a ban on SF6 in new medium-voltage secondary switchgear for these voltage levels with an appropriate transition period as part of the review of Annex III of the EU Regulation 517/2014.

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.

Presentation for political representatives in Brussels in September 2017

On 25.09.2017 an evening reception with interested parties entitled: „Relevance of the F-gas regulation for the European energy system“ took place in Brussels as well. Therefore political representatives with authorities in the field of f-gases were invited. Representatives of national governments, members of the European Commission and the European Parliament as well as manufacturers' and users’ agents participated. The event was opened with a presentation by the head of the division „Sustainable Production and Products, Waste Management“ Dr. Bettina Rechenberg. Afterwards a presentation about the current project status and discussions regarding the topic followed.

Final report

In April 2018 after an intensive dialog with manufacturers and users through interviews and expert workshops the final report (revised version) as well as a short summary could be published after 26 months of project duration. Therein detailed findings about available SF6-alternatives regarding their utilizability, advantages and limits of use as well as environmental effects can be found. The obtained insights can serve for a scientific evaluation of the climate protection potential by a replacement of SF6 in medium- and high-voltage switchgear. Furthermore they provide a basis for the calculation of a time frame of a European exit and deliver recommendations for accompanying measures. Tools and recommended actions for this purpose were inventoried, systemized and comparatively evaluated.

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. 12 tons in 2018.
Emissions of electrical equipment in Germany
Source: Umweltbundesamt