Gas Insulated or Air Insulated Switchgear 

By on

Various arguments exist around SF6 Gas Insulated (GIS) and Air Insulated (AIS) switchgear. Recently we had to change a GIS design to AIS due to an instruction from one of  our clients.  His concern is the global warming potential of SF6.   While understanding the clients reasons, I'm not convinced on the argument.

General arguments in favour of GIS include:

  • GIS is more cost effective
  • requires less space (up to 70% less that Air Insulated)
  • is safer in operation
  • has overall lower system loses
  • has higher protection against ambient conditions
  • is more reliable

As far as I can see the main argument against SF6 is that it has a global warming potential.  From an environmental view, the potential of releasing gas which contributes to global warming is obviously bad.  However, to quantify the effect, Capiel (see link below) has carried out some research:

  • GIS switchgear emissions (Europe, 2002) contribute 0.05% to total greenhouse gas emissions
  • measures implemented in switchgear design since 1995 have reduced GIS gas emissions by 40%
  • there is continuing technological progress in further reducing GIS gas emissions

Key Question

I think the key question in all of this is:

  • do the benefits of a safe reliable, cost effective electrical supply networks outweigh the potential SF6 contribution to greenhouse gas emissions ?

My View

The direct contribution of SF6 to greenhouse gas emissions is relatively low and I tend to think the advantages of a reliable electrical system outweigh these negatives.  Lower system loses and less materials required during manufacture reduce the life cycle carbon emissions, potentially offsetting the negative effects of SF6. 

A life cycle analysis of the German distribution system by Capiel (see link below) which considers materials, manufacture, ohmic losses and SF6 emissions shows that overall GIS contributes 30% less to global warming than AIS. Currently the arguments given against GIS don't appear sufficiently thought out and consider only the SF6 emission issue.

Without closing the door on the debate, I don't see enough evidence to force move away from GIS to AIS. 

Related Links



Steven McFadyen's avatar Steven McFadyen

Steven has over twenty five years experience working on some of the largest construction projects. He has a deep technical understanding of electrical engineering and is keen to share this knowledge. About the author

myElectrical Engineering

comments powered by Disqus



Magicians of Engineering

The other day I was reading 'Night of the New Magicians' by Mary Pope Osborn with my son.  The story is about a young boy and girl who travel back in time...

Understanding electric motor insulation & temperature

Anyone specifying or using electric motors should have a basic understanding how the insulation is related to temperature. Three classes of insulation...

Medium Voltage Switchgear Room Design Guide

Many medium voltage (MV) indoor switchgear rooms  exist worldwide. The complexity of these rooms varies considerably depending on location, function and...

Network Theory – Introduction and Review

In electrical engineering, Network Theory is the study of how to solve circuit problems. By analyzing circuits, the engineer looks to determine the various...

Battery Cars A to Z

Battery powered cars are a hot topic and widely debated. The pros, cons, issues and time frames can be talked about endlessly. An article by the Telegraph...

Paternoster Lifts

These lifts were first built in 1884 by J. E. Hall and called a paternoster ("Our Father", the first two words of the Lord's Prayer in Latin) due to its...

Skin Tapping Input

Tapping your forearm or hand with a finger could soon be the way you interact with gadgets. A new technology created by Microsoft and Carnegie Mellon ...

Maximum Demand for Buildings

Estimating maximum demand is a topic frequently discussed. Working out how much power to allow for a building can be very subjective . Allowing too much...

Hazardous Areas – IEC and NEC/CEC Comparison

Depending where in the world you work, you are likely following one of two standards International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) National...

Control Theory

Control theory looks at how systems work and are controlled from a mathematical view.  This note gives a brief introduction to some of the concepts – more...

Have some knowledge to share

If you have some expert knowledge or experience, why not consider sharing this with our community.  

By writing an electrical note, you will be educating our users and at the same time promoting your expertise within the engineering community.

To get started and understand our policy, you can read our How to Write an Electrical Note