Schneider Electric decarbonises electric distribution

Schneider Electric switchgear solutions decarbonise energy distribution by eliminating SF6 greenhouse gas from infrastructure equipment

How can the energy supply chain be sustainable if the technology used in the distribution of energy, also renewable energy, is yet to be decarbonised? 

In commercial and industrial buildings, the very equipment charged with the mission to supply electricity to operations could be contributing to the emissions that businesses strive to eliminate.

The man-made compound sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) operates in medium-voltage switchgear systems is the most potent greenhouse gas (GHG) in existence. Therefore, the development of SF6-free technologies is crucial, which lies in the hands of the ‘No.1 Sustainable Company’—as titled by Sustainability Magazine—Schneider Electric. 

What is switchgear and why do we need it?

Medium voltage (MV) switchgear acts as a control centre for managing the flow of electricity in buildings, factories, and other places. It’s a complex set of switches and safety measures that help direct and control the electricity that powers lights, machines, and appliances.

In simple terms, electricity is like water flowing through pipes. The MV switchgear helps control how much and where this "electricity flow" goes. It ensures that the right amount of electricity reaches different areas without overwhelming the system. When there's too much electricity coming in or if there's a problem, the switchgear automatically turns off specific parts of the electricity flow to prevent damage or accidents. It's a smart safety system that protects everything connected to it from potential electrical issues.

As a vital control centre MV switchgear ensures the safe and efficient distribution of electricity, preventing problems and keeping everything powered smoothly. 

Historically it leveraged SF6 gas as the dielectric to perform its critical mission, to insulate and break the electrical arc, but as a strong greenhouse gas SF6 is on the target list of the Kyoto Protocol. Regulators recognize this challenge in the context of climate change and introduce new policies like the F-gas regulation recently adopted by the EU. 

What is SF6 greenhouse gas? 

SF6 gas is the strongest greenhouse gas with Global Warming Potential (GWP) 25,200 higher than that of CO2. Made of sulphur combined with six fluorine atoms, this compound is known to trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. The annual emissions of SF6 was 24% between 2008 and 2018 and the compound is also known to have a long atmospheric lifetime, which means a new solution must be found in order to meet urgent emissions reduction targets.  

The compound is used primarily in electrical equipment, such as switchgear, and circuit breakers, to insulate and extinguish electric arcs. While highly effective for this particular purpose, the fact that SF6 contributes to climate warming sparked new development efforts at Schneider Electric to deliver a suitable alternative. 

Shifting the energy sector to pure-air and vacuum solutions

Schneider Electric’s solution to the problem comes in the form of SF6-free switchgear which uses pure-air and vacuum technology, providing huge improvements in environmental performance.

As an example, the SF6-free SM AirSeT technology is an MV switchgear that is piloted by Renault Group for its Refractory circular production facility in Flins, France, built to deliver holistically sustainable mobility to its customers.

Leveraging the AirSeT equipment with its digital capabilities, the company is able to react quickly in the event of power outage, and with a solution that is free of fluorinated gases (F-gases). The data provided by the digital switchgear is fed to the team in order to monitor its local energy network and inspect infrastructure to plan maintenance and reduce the impacts of disruption.

“The SM AirSeT has two major advantages: a technology that respects the environment—which is in line with the site’s circular economy—and connectivity that allows us to remotely monitor our equipment,” says Nicolas Feve, Fins Plant Maintenance Manager at Renault Group.

Why is digital crucial for substation decarbonisation? 

With EcoStruxure for Power and Grid, Schneider Electric enables customers to connect to their infrastructure, incorporating digitalisation across their energy networks. The digital architecture spans connected products, edge and apps analytics layers to create an ecosystem that captures data from various stages of the energy supply chain to provide meaningful insights for informed decision making 

An example of this can be seen at EEC Engie, an electric distribution utility in New Caledonia. Having committed to sustainability targets, the company required a ‘plug and play’ alternative to SF6-based MV equipment in their network, opting for a smart option with PowerLogic T300 solutions. EEC Engie now leverages a green and digital MV switchgear that gathers data on temperature, humidity, and cyber intrusion. Installing a more eco-friendly and intelligent solution has not only helped the utility avoid SF6 greenhouse gas and future gas recycling cost, but also gain more visibility of the network.

Digitalisation of energy infrastructure is key for better visibility and data sharing to a dedicated management platform. Combining digital hardware products with a software platform to analyse and report data will provide inevitable savings in terms of costs and emissions in the energy network. 

More information about Schneider Electric’s SF6-free solutions can be found HERE

Explore the Renault Group story HERE.

EEC Engie can be accessed HERE.

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Other magazines that may be of interest - EV Magazine | Energy Digital

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