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BBC describes SF6 gas as 'electrical industry's dirty secret'

17 September 2019

According to a recent BBC report, SF6 is the most powerful greenhouse gas known to humanity and emissions have increased due to raised levels of use for medium- and high-voltage electrical installations.

Its main purpose is to prevent electrical accidents and fires in power stations, electrical sub-stations and renewable energy installations.

Although it has a low purchase price, the gas has a higher global warming potential (GWP) than any known substance, according to the BBC, and is 23,500 times more warming than carbon dioxide (CO2).

An increasing number of connections to the electricity grid has driven the level of SF6 usage ever higher to protect electrical switches and circuit breakers by preventing arcs and short circuits.

However, alternative options are available, such as those used in the new Scottish Power Renewables' East Anglia wind farm, said the report.

The BBC highlights the issue that SF6 is proven to be an effective solution and has been used for many years by the electrical industry due to it being regarded as reliable and low maintenance.

Its increased use was highlighted by a survey conducted by the University of Cardiff that showed this has grown by between 30 and 40 tonnes per years.

Emissions across Europe in 2017 had reached the equivalent of 6.73m tonnes of CO2 following an increase of 8.1%.

Leaks of SF6 are seen as the main reason for the gas to enter the atmosphere and its global installation rate is expected to expand by 75% by 2030.

Further concern was expressed in the BBC article that emissions of the gas were continuing to be "severely under-reported" in developed countries, with the fact that developing countries are not subject to any restrictions of its use adding further to the issue.

The article also quotes Dutch Green MEP Bas Eickhout, who says that the electrical industry lobbied successfully for SF6 not to be subject to the restricted use of refrigerants within the F Gas regulations, that are continuing to see levels of gases with high GWP rates phased out.

However, the electrical industry was blamed for not exploring alternatives for the gas to reduce its impact, although the EU plans to review its use next year and examine whether there are effective alternative solutions available.

Facilities using air conditioning and refrigeration plant have been subject to the F Gas regulations, which will continue to see increasingly stringent levels of legislation in the years ahead.

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