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Northern Powergrid ditches SF6 gas in switchgear pilot with ABB

Gas-insulated switchgear

Northern Powergrid has set a goal of decarbonising its network by 2040, with the distribution network operator now trialling new technologies to help it achieve that goal. 

One such technology that the DNO is beginning to roll-out as part of a pilot program, is ABB’s SafePlus Medium Voltage switchgear, which claims to be more eco-efficient as it replaces harmful SF6 with alternative insulation gases. Those gases are AirPlus, a technology developed by ABB, and dry air, both of which claim to have almost zero global warming impact. 

As the first installation of its kind on Northern Powergrid’s distribution networks, two variants of ABB’s SafePlus switchgear have been adopted at substations in County Durham. For versions rated up to 24 kV, SafePlus AirPlus switchgear contains ABB’s AirPlus gas, with a GWP of less than one, compared with 100 for carbon dioxide. SafePlus Air switchgear, rated at up to 12 kV, contains dry air as insulation with a GWP of zero.

Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) is a potent greenhouse gas with an atmospheric lifetime of 3,200 years. Reducing SF6 leaks across Northern Powergrid’s electrical distribution network of over 63,000 substations and 60,000 miles of overhead power lines and underground cables, is central to the network operator’s commitment to achieve net zero within the next 20 years.

Joseph Helm, Policy and Standards Manager at Northern Powergrid, noted, “Decarbonisation is the biggest and most important challenge that our planet faces. Until recently, there have been limited viable alternatives to SF6. This pilot underlines our commitment to exceeding business plan targets, embracing the latest innovations, and lowering emissions. Using new solutions like ABB’s eco-efficient switchgear represents a significant milestone in our drive towards decarbonisation. We have already reduced SF6 leaks by 23%, but still want to drive an extra 15% by 2028. Switching to ABB’s comprehensive range of eco-efficient switchgear will help us to push ahead with these ambitious carbon commitments.”

Northern Powergrid has been using ABB switchgear solutions for more than 20 years. ABB’s latest eco-efficient range, including SafePlus AirPlus and SafePlus Air, has the same interface and footprint. This enables solutions to be quickly and cost-effectively deployed. 

Stephen Gibbs, ABB’s Marketing and Sales Director for Electrification Distribution Solutions added, “ABB has delivered its proven AirPlus technology to installations around the world, with more than 5,000 eco-GIS solutions installed since 2015. With the UK committing to reducing emissions by 78% by 2035, the race is on to support these ambitious targets. Initiatives like Northern Powergrid’s pilot of our SF6-free switchgear will pave the way for further decarbonisation of its network and support the network operator as it aims to lower its environmental footprint.”

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