Technical Article

How do F-gas Regulations Affect Switchgear?

August 26, 2022 by Maik Hyrenbach

Here’s an overview of how the latest proposed updates to the European Commission’s F-gas regulation affect those involved in switchgear specification, installation and maintenance.

The latest proposed updates to the European Commission’s F-gas regulation include new deadlines and guidance for the electricity distribution sector and those using Medium Voltage Gas Insulated Switchgear (MV GIS). Here is an overview of how the latest guidance affects those specifying, installing, and maintaining SF6 MV GIS.


Guidance for F-gas Regulation Updates

Fluorinated greenhouse gases (F-gases) are a family of man-made gases used in many essential industrial applications. The most damaging is SF6 (sulfur hexafluoride gas) which has a global warming effect 25,200 times greater than CO2. However, it also has unique dielectric properties, making it an extremely popular electrical insulation solution for power systems and widely used for current interruption in the transmission and distribution of electricity.


F-gas regulation timeline

Image used courtesy of ABB


The use of F-gases was first regulated in 2006, when the European Union (EU) passed its initial F-gas regulation, a move that resulted in EU F-gas emissions stabilizing by 2010, although at this time, SF6 alternatives for primary GIS were not readily available on the market. Revisions to the initial legislation followed in 2015 when a deadline of 2030 was set for cutting the region’s F-gas emissions by two-thirds compared with 2014 levels. 

With new regulatory proposals published in April 2022, set to come into force before the end of this decade and more suitable alternative products on the market, the EU hopes this process will gain further traction.

If passed, new revisions will stipulate the use of SF6 to be prohibited in MV electrical equipment for applications up to 24 kV from 2026 and applications up to 52 kV from 2030. 

While consultations, stakeholder meetings and debates within the EU parliament will be held over the next 12 to 18 months to finalize the proposals, it is anticipated that the suggested regulations banning SF6 for new projects will become law.


Impact of F-gas Regulations on Electric Distribution

The current F-gas regulation stipulates careful management practices of SF6 switchgear in operation, focusing on leak prevention, record keeping and the use of certified technicians for switchgear containing over 6 kg of SF6. However, the new rules proposed by the EU would make SF6-free switchgear mandatory for all new installations.

At this point, there will be a substantial period of coexistence between newly installed SF6-free products and the pre-existing global installed base of SF6 GIS. However, operators mustn't see this as a reason to delay their own migration to sustainable switchgear.


Environmental Effects of SF6

From an environmental perspective, as well as having global warming potential tens of thousands of times greater than CO2, SF6 is also a very stable chemical, with an atmospheric lifetime of 3,200 years, which creates a substantial buildup of the chemical in the atmosphere even when usage is reduced.


greenhouse gas emissions

Image used courtesy of Unsplash


But it also makes sense from a financial standpoint. If organizations wait until the last minute to find an alternative for SF6 switchgear, they are much more likely to experience longer lead times or higher costs once the changes come into force. 


Migrating to an SF6-free Future 

The first step for any business thinking about starting migration toward an SF6-free future is education. Learning about the change and the solutions available within the market to help you succeed is an important starting point. Webinars, consultations, presentations and literature are all positive ways to broaden organizations’ understanding of the topic. Manufacturers of SF6-free switchgear can provide information about the options available. 


Piloting Alternative Switchgear Technology

Piloting alternative switchgear is the next logical step. There are two main alternative technologies – one based on keeping the low-pressure design requiring a new insulation gas at voltages above 12 kV and the other uses compressed air for the complete voltage range but with significantly increased pressure above 12 kV. 

At high pressure, the consequences of pressure loss are different and can, in the worst cases, lead to internal arc failures resulting in a destruction of the equipment and a blackout. 

If organizations afford themselves enough time to complete pilots and analyze the performance of different solutions without rushing, the third stage of their migration – specification – can be relatively painless. Operators should discuss their needs with their manufacturing partners. In some instances, they may even be able to speed up the process by making the upgrade before the technology has reached the open market. 

Finally, it’s time for volume installation for all new projects, which should happen sooner rather than later. 

As the legislation draws closer, more organizations are beginning volume-specification of SF6-free GIS. Working with the most experienced supplier and embedding your volume specification of SF6-free GIS ahead once your pilot is complete will put you in a better position to comply with the regulatory changes once they come into effect.


About ABB

Demonstrating its commitment to accelerating the phase-out of this greenhouse gas, ABB introduced its first SF6-free MV GIS solution to the market in 2015 with an open patent, so the technology was available for everyone to use.

Now, the ecoGISTM portfolio covers a whole range up to 40.5kV. The low-pressure design based on AirPlus for solutions above 12kV ensures the highest availability and reliability of the network while at the same time offering a similar footprint and design compared to SF6 switchgear, which allows for easy replacements or additions.

Feature image used courtesy of Unsplash