How SF6-free technology supports a more sustainable future for utilities

ABB Australia
Image: ABB Australia


By Saw-Chin Toh, Product Marketing Manager—Primary MV and LV Switchgear, Electrification, ABB Australia

Click. The light is on. Click. The TV, too. Click. Click. Now so is the sound system. It sounds so easy and simple, yet power has to travel a long way before it reaches our houses.

It is not magic behind our convenient and comfortable lives, it is you (utilities) and us, bringing power to homes and buildings and our loved ones who live and work inside them. The challenges may change, but the requirement will remain the same: Click. The light is on.

ABB helps to electrify the world sustainably and the demand for space-saving electrical solutions like compact switchgear is growing.

The only problem: The traditional gas used in switchgear, SF6, although very reliable, is a potent greenhouse gas.

But with ABB, going green has never been easier. We have developed a pioneering gas mixture that reduces global warming potential by almost 100 percent. With that, we were the first company to offer an alternative eco-friendly gas to you, our customers, and have the most complete eco gas insulated switchgear (GIS) portfolio on the market with ratings from 12 to 40.5kV, covering both primary and secondary distribution.

Since 2015, we have brought to market proven SF6-free technology to empower you to make greener choices in a world of evolving regulations and standards. More than 9,000 SF6-free switchgear units have been installed with Dry Air (12kV) or AirPlus technology worldwide.

A true alternative to SF6 

Sectors such as utilities are benefiting from safe, smart and sustainable solutions, especially as they have the largest installed base of gas-insulated switchgear.

No other segment relies so much on a long and maintenance-free lifecycle. ABB is aware of that—and we’ve made it as easy as possible for you to transition to a green alternative while keeping the same benefits of a traditional GIS. In other words: The switchgear design of an ecoGIS is the same as with SF6. Compared to other solutions on the market, our safe low-pressure design has similar dielectric insulation benefits and footprint as an SF6 switchgear.

The condition of primary and secondary AirPlus switchgear pilots have been thoroughly checked and gas samples have been taken and analysed. The results are positive and confirm our expectations; that there were no performance issues and no deterioration of the gas or of the material of the panels.

Another plus: ABB GIS solutions are sealed for life and do not require onsite gas handling. Since gas handling is similar to that of SF6, no additional trainings/certifications are needed, thus also making operations easier.

Making it easy to make greener choices

Considering electricity distribution systems have a lifespan of 30 to 40 years, we understand that customers want to maximise the value of their installations. It’s why at ABB we’ve been working hard to make it easy for customers to make greener choices.

With our ecoGIS portfolio,we are proud to be helping utilities, industries and infrastructure customers make the transition to SF6-free technology and significantly reduce their carbon footprints in energy distribution.

When considering your currently installed based, remember it is not possible to simply replace SF6 with AirPlus or Dry Air in your current switchgear because different gases do not behave the same.

However, ABB has released the world’s first switchgear that allows customers to switch to a green insulation gas at any point in the switchgear’s lifetime. PrimeGear ZX0 and ZX2 AirPlus are available with SF6 or eco-efficient gas mixtures Dry Air or AirPlus, an eco-efficient gas mixture with a global warming potential of less than one. And it is also available with an optional eco-ready panel enabling customers to choose SF6 insulation and easily switch to AirPlus or Dry Air in the future.

A digital solution provides insights on the switchgear’s health, whether cloud-based  or on-premise. Current and voltage sensors, remote monitoring and diagnostics features, make installation and commissioning quicker and easier, and also helps the customer monitor their switchgear operations.

Switching to a sustainable future

ABB is proud to have partnered with companies around the world who are actively seeking to reduce their use of SF6 to reduce environmental impact and enable a low carbon society.

UK Power Networks, the UK’s biggest electricity distributor providing power to 8.3 million homes and businesses, commissioned ABB to supply the world’s first 36kV medium-voltage double busbar AirPlus GIS at its substation in Kent. The higher the voltages, the higher the pressure in the switchgear, but thanks to AirPlus, ABB’s switchgear can handle the pressure, having a safe low-pressure design with similar dielectric insulation benefits and footprint as an SF6 switchgear. The revolutionary double busbar design gives the additional benefit of reliability by reducing the risk of unplanned downtime and offering more flexibility in sharing the power load. In addition to enhancing the collaboration with UK Power Networks, this contract confirms the acceptance of AirPlus technology as a reliable alternative to SF6 for utilities in the UK.

Enel Global Infrastructure & Networks is reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and providing reliable and sustainable power across its networks in Italy and Spain thanks to the installation of ABB’s SF6-free Medium Voltage Ring Main Units (RMUs), specifically designed for Enel’s requirements. The project represents an important step towards delivering increasingly sustainable power grids, as ABB’s low pressure 24kV solution has the same footprint, safety and reliability as traditional SF6 solutions.

Transition to a sustainable world—now

We understand that SF6 has been the traditional gas used for over 50 years in switchgear and it is not easy to move away from it. But we are convinced that we found the best alternative and it is the only possible solution for segments like utilities to keep reliability high and fulfill upcoming environmental regulations.

When ABB developed SF6-free technology, we decided that the benefit for society was too important to have a monopoly, and we opened the basic patents to be used by anybody for free. Think what could be achieved if we collectively decided to make electricity distribution greener by flicking the switch on SF6.

Download this whitepaper to learn how to best plan and prepare for a more certain future of your medium voltage switchgear projects.

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