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EconiQ retrofill: the sustainable solution that reduces reliance on SF₆

By Francesco Agostini
03-07-2023 | 5 min read

Climate change is not a buzzword.
It is not another vague, trendy catchword savvy marketers spin.
Climate change is real; global warming is real.

While climate change is hard to ignore, it is often oversimplified in the media as a poster child for environmental damage but the issue is far more complex.

From superstorms to wildfires, climate change affects us in many ways and understanding its effects is crucial in addressing this global challenge and moving beyond it being just a buzzword.

In our ultra-connected world, we are constantly inundated with an overwhelming amount of information, and this is where buzzwords come in. They provide a way for us to condense complex, mind-bending concepts into easily digestible and memorable phrases. 

That means an essential subject like SF6 and the impact of greenhouse gases could also reach popularity akin to acid rain in the '70s or the ozone layer in the '80s. Something that captures the interest of many, but comprehending all its aspects and implications requires a significant investment of time and effort.

SF6 is a manufactured greenhouse gas with an extremely high global warming potential (GWP). 

A metric ton of SF6 in the atmosphere is equivalent to the same GWP as 23,500 metric tons of CO2 in the atmosphere over 100 years. This is equivalent to approximately 125 passenger cars on the road for a year. If accidentally released into the atmosphere, SF6 remains there for around 3200 years.

Rising environmental impact

The Earth’s temperatures have been increasing since 1950. Over the last 40 years, each decade has been warmer than the last, with the last 10 years being the hottest on record.

SF6 must be handled with care as it can absorb and emit infrared radiation and prevent it from escaping into space. This  trapped heat increases the Earth's surface and atmospheric temperature (the greenhouse effect).

The energy sector is among the highest users of SF6, accounting for 80 percent of global SF6 emissions in 2019, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Due to its insulation and current interruption properties, SF6 has been used for circuit breakers and gas-insulated switchgear in high-voltage substations for decades.

Although leakage rates in the manufacturing process and during the operation of modern high-voltage equipment are low, utilities have long recognized the need to minimize the use of SF6 or replace it altogether.

The main challenge?  A lack of viable alternatives. 

Steps to decarbonizing the grid

Hitachi Energy partnered with one of the world's largest investor-owned transmission and distribution utilities, National Grid, a company with ambitious plans to eliminate SF6 from its high-voltage equipment by 2050. 

"National Grid has identified SF6 as the next environmental challenge we need to address, which will allow us to be completely environmentally friendly," said Ismail Patel, Project Engineer at National Grid. 

SF6 is a major part of the National Grid network, currently over 90 percent of controllable emissions.

When we approached Hitachi Energy with the idea and said we have to get rid of this gas, there were minimal solutions in the market and across the globe. So, to achieve the net-zero ambition, we must move quickly with technology and innovation

Ismail Patel, Project Engineer at National Grid

The solution is ready now 

Hitachi Energy supports worldwide efforts to reduce the impact of greenhouse gases and accelerates the development of eco-efficient solutions. 

We leverage our decades of experience in the switchgear domain to design and develop a new high-voltage portfolio that utilizes a game-changing, eco-efficient gas mixture. The new brand launched in 2021 is known as EconiQ™ and cuts SF6-related CO2 equivalent emissions by 99 percent.

Our EconiQ high-voltage portfolio eliminates SF6 with reliable and scalable solutions for the lowest carbon footprint. It retains the best of SF6 and is 100 percent as reliable as the conventional solution while reducing equipment size, materials, and carbon footprint throughout the product life cycle. 

The EconiQ high-voltage product portfolio comprises sustainable products, services, and solutions that are alternatives to industry-standard sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) applications.

Reducing SF₆ is a universal challenge, but the solution is ready now and has a big impact on National Grid.

Sam Ridsdale, Global Solutions Manager, Utilities, at Hitachi Energy

To accomplish this, Ridsdale said National Grid uses Hitachi Energy's EconiQ retrofill "to replace SF6 in installed equipment with the eco-efficient gas mixture to improve the environmental and life-cycle performance of the equipment. This is part of improving our sustainability position across the portfolio."

Creating a net-zero energy system

The energy industry is making real efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by investing in new equipment and utilizing advanced technology to upgrade current infrastructure that could be economically beneficial and sustainable. 

"Sometimes people think the only way to decarbonize the power system in terms of the grid is to put new products in place," Ridsdale said. "And that's true on a lot of occasions, but in this case, taking existing equipment, which is not ready to be replaced, to be able to put in a different gas than what is already there to make sure that it's performing as well as it was before."

"Energy is more central to people's lives than ever before. Any disruption or change can be scary.," Ridsdale says. "Hitachi Energy and National Grid collaborated first to see the opportunity and then worked together to manage the challenges. Now we have a system that can be used anywhere to help move toward more sustainable solutions."

Francesco Agostini
Global Product Manager for Retrofill, Sustainability and Digital Services of the High Voltage Products business
About the author

Francesco has over 15 years’ experience in product management and R&D.

He is focused on driving growth and success of our service offering globally and making a positive impact in the industries and communities.

You can connect with him on Linkedin