By David Kligman
Sulfur hexafluoride or SF6 is used by energy companies throughout the world because it’s an excellent insulator for electrical equipment, including gas-insulated substations and circuit breakers.
“It keeps electricity where it needs to be,” said Kevin Berent of the Electric Power Research Institute.
But SF6 also is a potent greenhouse gas.
“From a global warming potential perspective, it’s 22,800 times worse than carbon dioxide,” said Jeff Borders, director of engineering standards and technical services for PG&E.
Over the years, PG&E has had a comprehensive program to find and fix SF6 leaks on its system. As a result, the company’s leak rate is well below the requirements set out by the state of California.
But PG&E is doing more than that by seeking an alternative for SF6 that doesn’t have an impact on the climate.
A PG&E team is collaborating with other California energy companies, as well as the Electric Power Research Institute, to work with manufacturers to develop equipment free of SF6.
PG&E has purchased six non-SF6 circuit breakers and has plans to buy more circuit breakers at even higher voltages while expanding it to gas-insulated switch gear at its substations.
“If we can find a way to help the industry and help society in general come up with a better product , one that might be more environmentally cleaner than what we’re using already, that’s a big win,” Berent said.
The work is just one many ways PG&E is using innovation in its commitment to a sustainable energy future.
“I think it’s fair to say that climate change is one of the defining challenges of our time,” said Melissa Lavinson, PG&E’s chief sustainability officer and vice president of federal affairs and policy.
“And that’s why you’re seeing so many countries and states like California step up to take action,” she added. “As an energy provider, we recognize the responsibility we have to reduce emissions — not only associated with the electricity we deliver to our customers, which is approximately 70 percent greenhouse gas free, but also incumbent upon us to take action to reduce emissions of our own operations.”
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