Around the world, countries and regions are regulating, or planning to regulate SF6 in various ways. In some cases, SF6-use is targeted under sweeping regulations that apply to all fluorocarbons. In others, the regulatory requirements are specific to SF6. Below, we provide a brief overview of what the status is of SF6-regulation in different parts of the world.
Situation in the European Union (E.U.)
The European Union has taken steps to reduce SF6 emissions, recognizing that the fluorinated gases (F-gases) group has the strongest potential greenhouse effect, with emissions doubling from 1990 through 2014.
In 2014 the European Commission passed Regulation No 517/2014, known as the “2014 F-gas Regulation.” The latest regulation replaced its 2006 predecessor and included some updated requirements for the use of SF6 in electrical switchgear. More recently in 2020, the EU published a report suggesting plans to phase out SF6 in electric power systems (De La Fuente, D. et al. 2021).
The current Regulation includes requirements for products and sectors outside the power industry, as well as for all hydrofluorocarbons, but the content below focuses on the requirements for SF6 used in switchgear. Each EU Member State has implemented the requirements according to its own sets of procedures, which may vary widely between jurisdictions.
The Regulation defines electrical switchgear as “switching devices and their combination with associated control, measuring, protective and regulating equipment, and assemblies of such devices and equipment with associated interconnections, accessories, enclosures and supporting structures, intended for usage in connection with the generation, transmission, distribution and conversion of electric energy” (European Parliament. 2014: 150).
In general, operators of electrical switchgear (including other gas-insulated equipment such as circuit breakers and gas-insulated substations) are required to take all reasonable measures to prevent emissions, including timely repair. Specific requirements can be broken down into four categories:
1. Leak checks
Operators of switchgear that contain an amount of SF6 with a CO2e of five tons (~0.21 kg of SF6) or more must be checked for leaks at specific intervals of 24, 12, 6 or 3 months, depending on the amount of SF6 and certain other parameters. Hermetically sealed equipment have the same requirements, but only if the collective amount is 10 tons (~0.43 kg of SF6) or greater of CO2e. Switchgear with 500 tons (~21 kg of SF6) or more of CO2e and installed prior to January 1, 2017 must have a leak detection system capable of alerting the operator or service company of any leakage.
2. Record keeping requirements
Operators of switchgear that are required to be checked for leaks must maintain separate records for each switchgear. Among other information, the records must include quantities of gas added or recovered during installation, maintenance and recovery, and dates and results of leak checks.
3. Training and Certification requirements
EU Member states must establish or adapt certification programs to ensure that individuals/companies that will be performing installation receive proper training for servicing, maintenance, repair or decommissioning of equipment, and recovery of SF6 gas.
SF6 recovery must be performed by individuals or companies that hold the relevant certificates to ensure that the recovered gas is properly recycled, reconditioned or destroyed.
Electrical switchgear must be labelled as containing SF6. The label must also include the amount of SF6 and the CO2 equivalent of the gas contained in the equipment, or that the equipment is designed to contain. Hermetically sealed equipment must be labelled as such, and if the equipment has a tested leak rate of less than 0.1% per year, that must also be on the label.
The European Commission is in the process of reviewing the F-gas Regulation to evaluate how well the Regulation has functioned and to analyse policy options to improve the Regulation going forward. The Commission’s proposal for a new Regulation is expected by April 2022 and is expected to involve an SF6-phase out – especially for the medium voltage segment. This proposal will then go through the EU's regulatory process in the Council and the Parliament before it's implemented into law.
Situation in the United States (U.S.A.)
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made mandatory the reporting of large SF6 emissions in 2009. This was followed by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and Massachusetts Department of Environment - two state environmental agencies - strengthening their own SF6 regulation, both of which include emissions reporting standards, and an emission reduction requirement.
California Air Resource Board (CARB)
CARB is responsible for protecting the Californian public from the harmful effects of air pollution and developing programs and actions to fight climate change. Their regulation is copied by fourteen other U.S. states. CARB is proposing an SF6 phase-out for all use-cases by 2025.
Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (Mass DEP)
In 2015 Mass DEP implemented a regulation to require Massachusetts utilities to track and report their SF6 emissions and inventory.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
In January 2011 the US Environmental Protection Agency began requiring utilities to track and report SF6 emissions.
Situation in Asia
There are no SF6 regulations that focus directly on transmission and distribution operators. But other programs exist. In Japan, fluorocarbon gas manufacturers and importers are encouraged to reduce production and distribution, and to recycle fluorocarbon gases where possible. South Korea tracks annual emissions of SF6 in the Energy Sector through a national Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventory.
In January 2019, Japan submitted its Fourth Biennial Report under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), including an estimate of GHG emissions broken down by sector.
SF6 emissions in 2017 (the report’s latest recorded year) were 2.1 MtCO2e which represented an 83.4% decrease from 1990. The report mainly credits enhancements in gas recovery and management systems within the electric utilities sector for this reduction (The Government of Japan. 2019: 12).
Japan has no laws that restrict the power sector’s use of SF6, or that demand emissions reporting and tracking. Instead, Japan’s switchgear OEMs and electric utilities created a voluntary action plan in the late 1990’s with the aim of (Sugimura, E. & Aoyama, T. 2001: 1):
1. Reducing emissions throughout the SF6 life cycle
2. Establishing and promoting recycling
3. Improving SF6 inventory tracking
4. Developing alternative insulation technologies
In 2016 emissions of SF6 were 6.8 million tons CO2eq., accounting for 1.0% of the national GHG emissions. This represents an increase of 3,810.5% compared to 1990 (The Government of the Republic of Korea. 2019: 25).
This significant increase was likely due to the rapid growth of various technology manufacturing subsectors over that period, requiring the development of greater electrical infrastructure. Among these was the growth of the semi-conductor industry, which also uses SF6 in its processes.
In 2015 South Korea implemented a GHG Emissions Trading Scheme, which includes SF6. Drawing from an emissions baseline of 2011-2013 levels, Phase 1 (2015-2017) entailed 100% free allocations for most sectors; Phase 2 (2018 – 2020) entailed 97% of total allowance supply; and Phase 3 (2021-2025) will entail less than 90% free allowances (ICAP, 2021: 2).
In a sign of South Korea's intention to transition away from SF6 KEPCO - South Korea's state-owned utility - recently signed an agreement for joint use of an SF6 decomposition facility with the Korean National Railway (EconoTimes; 2021). The facility is expected to be completed in June 2022, with an annual processing capacity of 60 tons. KEPCO plans on building six of these decomposition facilities in total, which would process 300 tons yearly. KEPCO currently has 6,000 tons of SF6 which it hopes to destroy, using these facilities, by 2050.
China’s Second Biennial Update Report on Climate Change has little information on SF6 emissions, and the information listed only pertains to the Industrial Sector (The Government of China, 2018: 10).
However, over the last ten years, China has made moves away from SF6-using GIS. For example, they have begun to transition away from using SF6 in their 12 kV voltage range, both in primary distribution and secondary distribution (Eco-RMUs). While first generation SF6-free switchgear initially consisted of solid insulated switchgear (SIS), currently the trend is reverting to gas insulated switchgear that use SF6 alternative gases.
Since the 2018 report was published, China is now considering new regulations or standards to further reduce SF6 usage and emissions. This is embodied by a dedicated working group, made up of utilities, oil and gas companies, and some top switchgear OEMs, that was set up in October 2021 dedicated to investigating the use of SF6 in the energy industry, and potential measures for its control and replacement. This working group is being led by the Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment and China's Energy Research Society.
This content was based on information provided by the 'SF6 & Alternatives Coalition' ‘Policy and Regulations' page. Available here.
China Energy Research Society, 2021. 'Sulphur Hexafluoride Gas Statistical INvestigation and Control Substation Working Group Kick-Off Meeting Succesfully Held' (translated). China Energy Research Society. Available here.
De La Fuente, D. et al. 2021. ‘SF6: The Little Gas That Could… Make Global Warming Worse’. The Baker Institute / Forbes. Available here.
EconoTimes, 2021. 'KEPCO to share CO2 decomposition tech to Korea National Railway' EconoTimes. Available here.
European Parliament. 2014. ‘Regulation (EU) No 517/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 April 2014 on fluorinated greenhouse gases and repealing Regulation (EC) No 842/2006 Text with EEA relevance’. EUR-Lex. Available here.
ICAP, 2021. ‘Korea Emissions Trading Scheme’. International Carbon Action Partnership. Available here.
Sugimura, E. & Aoyama, T. 2016. ‘The Situation of Reduction in SF6 Emission from Gas-Insulated Electrical Equipment in Japan’. EPA. Available here.
The Government of China. 2018. ‘The People’s Republic of China Second Biennial Update Report on Climate Change’. UNFCCC. Available here.
The Government of Japan. 2019. ‘Japan’s Fourth Biennial Report under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’. UNFCCC. Available here.
The Government of the Republic of Korea. 2019. ‘Third Biennial Update Report of the Republic of Korea’. UNFCC. Available here.