Industry concern over proposed EU phase-out of gas for grid-critical switchgear

WindEurope has voiced concerns after a vote in the European Parliament for new regulations on reducing fluorinated greenhouse gases that will lead to the phase-out of sulphur hexafluoride, an insulating agent used on switchgear.

High-voltage switchgear typically uses SF-6 (Image credit: Costfoto/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
High-voltage switchgear typically uses SF-6 (Image credit: Costfoto/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Electrical switchgear, circuit breakers and other gas-insulated equipment are of crucial importance for the stability and reliability of transmission and distribution networks. 

When voltage levels are higher than 52kV, sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) – a fluorinated gas with a much higher global warming potential (GWP) than carbon dioxide – is typically used.

‘Realistic phase-out’

Although grid equipment manufacturers have developed reliable alternatives to SF6, WindEurope said the phase-out should take place "in a timely and realistic manner”, which allows the supply chain to scale up production of SF6-free solutions. 

Transmission and distribution system operators should be allowed to operate existing equipment until the end of its lifetime, the wind association said, and it warned against retroactive measures that could undermine the expansion of grid infrastructure required for Europe’s energy transition.

To achieve the RepowerEU ambition of 55% greenhouse gas emission reduction and more energy independence, Europe needs 440GW of wind energy by 2030, up from today’s 204GW, which amounts to annual additions of 31GW for the next eight years.

"Delivering on these ambitions requires a stable and secure supply of electrical switchgear and circuit breakers," WindEurope said. "Grids are the backbone of Europe’s future electricity system. Europe must double its current grid investments to €66-80 billion annual investments over the next 30 years," it added.

If adopted in its current form, the regulation voted on by the European Parliament’s environment committee on 1 March will ban the use of fluorinated greenhouse gases in switchgear with a GWP greater than 10 by 2026 or 2031, depending on the voltage of the switchgear.

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