Unrealistic SF6 phase-out risks jeopardising the energy transition, warn Eurelectric and +50 organisations

News Article

Tomorrow, the European Parliament will discuss the phase-out of fluorinated gases, so-called “F-gases”. These are potent greenhouse gases with one of the highest global warming potentials. SF6, sulfur hexafluoride, is one such gas and it has been used for decades across the electricity sector – from the switch gears used in hydro, nuclear, wind turbine, to distribution grids – as an insulator.

In a joint letter, the European energy sector welcomes the phase-out of SF6, but also warns that an inadequate phase-out will jeopardise Europe’s energy transition. Eurelectric together with more than 50 organisations across the entire value chain – including Europe’s biggest utilities, national associations, DSOs, TSOs, and Manufacturers urge policymakers to vote on a fit-for-purpose F-gas regulation that would safeguard Europe’s needs for a rapid and continuous expansion of its electricity networks to deliver its climate and energy security targets.

The phase out must be done in a gradual and realistic manner to ensure that the European supply chain can scale up the production of SF6-free solutions and that network operators can continue the safe operation of existing grid infrastructure until the end of its lifetime.

Ensure the availability of high voltage alternatives

By 2030 the EU wants to install and connect 750 GW of wind and solar capacity. To deliver on these ambitions system operators require a stable, secure, and competitive supply of SF6-free electrical equipment. That’s a pre-requisite to ensure Europe’s electricity networks can integrated increasing renewable generation on time and in a cost-effective manner and reliably provide power to consumers.  

Several SF6-free high-voltage technologies are already available and manufactured in Europe. The European Union should maintain a technology-neutral approach among such alternatives. Prioritising only one choice would delay the energy transition by more than a decade.

Keep Europe’s grids working

Replacing SF6 with alternatives on existing installations any time a maintenance or repair is foreseen will require changing the whole design of the infrastructure. The consequences would be massive delays on the grid, or power plant, as well as huge waste from well-functioning equipment that will have to be disposed prior to the end of their lifespan. This would undermine Europe’s energy and climate targets, generate significant volumes of waste material, and lead to high additional costs for network operators.

Equipment that is already installed today should remain repairable and maintainable until the end of its designed lifespan which can be up to 50 years.

Furthermore, imposing annual leakage measurements for electrical switchgear and circuit breakers will require dismantling and testing millions of pieces of critical electric infrastructure, putting on hold the whole system at a time when we should accelerate our decarbonisation via clean and renewable electrification.

Time is not a luxury anymore.