Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) plays an important role as an insulating gas in electrical switchgear at various voltage levels when interrupting and diverting current flows. But it is one of the most effective greenhouse gases with a very long lifetime and, although the concentration of SF6 in the atmosphere is currently still very low, it accumulates steadily over the years. The Fraunhofer IEE and the Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM) finalized a research study investigating the development of MV switchgear installations under different boundaries showing the impact on SF6 emissions, and analyzing the market acceptance of SF6-free alternatives, as well as barriers and drivers to adoption.
The Fraunhofer Institute for Energy Economics and Energy System Technology
IEE in Kassel designed a model for estimating the installed base and analyzing the impact and sensitivity of variable technical parameters or changes in policy and regulation. With the model, it is estimated that around 15 million MV switchgear functional units are installed in Europe today of which 10 million are using SF6. This relates to a banked volume of 8600 t SF6 or an equivalent of 196 million tons of C02.
Three main drivers define the development of SF6 emissions in medium voltage switchgear: network extensions, operation emissions, and end-of-life handling. The end-of-life handling has the key role. Network extension effects are also significant. Business as usual would lead to an increase of about 40% of the SF6 banked volume in MV switchgear until 2050.
Considering the European Green Deal and Circular Economy, zero emissions by 2050 is only achievable by forced replacement of switchgear with F-gas free technology. For the replacement high quality end-of-life handling is the key to minimize greenhouse gas emissions. While a well-established end-of-life management is expected for utilities and bigger industries, incentives like credits for controlled decommissioning of SF6 equipment could be considered to reach the fractured private market.
The Grenoble Ecole de Mangement conducted an empirical study to better understand customer-purchasing criteria for medium voltage switchgear, including the interplay of technical, economic as well as environmental aspects. A survey including stated preferences choice experiments (SPCE) was completed anonymously by a total of 443 respondents in five European countries.
Results from the survey suggest that customers for MV switchgear expect a decrease in use of SF6 technology in the near future. This decrease, however, is expected to be primarily driven by policies and regulations, rather than technological change or prices. Customers remain in fact uncertain which technology will most likely replace SF6.
At the same time, respondents express an interest in environmental aspects of different MV switchgear technologies. Eco-friendliness was in fact identified as one of the most important purchase criteria for MV switchgear.
The study was performed between March 2019 and April 2020 focusing on medium voltage (MV) switchgear in electricity grids in the European Union. Participation in the study was open to all electricity grid stakeholders.
Summary and detailed results for both parts of the study are available on the project web site www.f-gas-free.eu.
The Fraunhofer Institute for Energy Economics and Energy System Technology IEE in Kassel researches for the national and international transformation of energy supply systems.
We develop solutions for technical and economic challenges in order to further reduce the costs of renewable energies, to secure the supply despite volatile generation, to ensure grid stability at todays high level and to promote the success of the energy transition business model.
With the help of our scientific, technical and operational offerings and solutions, we support our customers and partners from politics and industry.
Established by Grenoble’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 1984, Grenoble Ecole de Management (GEM) is a higher education institution in Management. It delivers 40 national and international programs from the undergraduate to the Doctoral level for about 6000 students. It is accredited by EQUIS, AACSB and AMBA, and a member of the Conférence des Grandes Ecoles. GEM ranks among the 20 best European Business Schools (latest Financial Times Ranking), and typically among the top 4 to 6 business schools in France.
The GEM Energy Management team combines research on strategic management, technology innovation and energy policy to create and share knowledge that will help businesses and society move towards a low-carbon future.
Dipl.-Ing. Wolfram Heckmann
Phone +49 561 7294-126
34119 Kassel, Germany
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