Network companies battle dangerous amendments that could cost billions

For immediate release – Monday 29 April 2013

Energy Networks Association (ENA) is fighting a dangerous proposal that threatens Europe’s energy security and which could add billions to consumers’ bills.

The threat comes from an amendment to an EU regulation designed to manage the use of sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), which is used to insulate electricity switchgear.

The Fluorinated Greenhouse Gases Regulation Rapporteur for the European Parliament Environment Committee Dutch Green MEP Bas Eickhout has tabled an amendment that will ban the use of SF6 from 2020 onwards.

David Smith, Chief Executive of ENA said:

“This amendment will have a profound impact on the ability of the EU electricity network to operate after 2020. It will potentially lead to a catastrophic failure of large amounts of the network, in effect a ‘lights out’ scenario across Europe. Furthermore, it could also cost the UK electricity bill payer in excess of £1.4 billion in replacing otherwise healthy and reliable assets. This will also have a similar impact across other EU member states.

“The ban simply makes no sense as there is no conceivable threat from the use of SF6 in electricity switchgear. In addition, for a range of uses there are no alternatives.

“We are taking our argument to the European Parliament at a series of meetings with MEPs. We have also raised it at Ministerial level both in DECC and DEFRA.”

ENDS

Notes to editors

  1. The impact on energy security - At 11kV the alternatives are limited but at 33kV there are no current alternatives. A ban therefore would lead to a complete inability for network operators across the EU to maintain supply. Even at the lower voltages proposed this will place an unprecedented pressure on network operators who will need to replace assets that typically have a 40 year life span and in a market where alternatives to SF6 insulated switchgear are limited. Given this level of asset replacement the ability of network operators across the EU to maintain the reliability of their networks and keep the lights on will be seriously constrained.
  2. The cost to the public -The impact on costs in the UK alone is in the billions. Based on an analysis of the current deployment of SF6 insulated switchgear in the UK there are at least 100,000 installations. We estimate conservatively that the additional cost of procuring the new switchgear alone to the electricity customer would be in excess of £1.4 billion. Of course as demand for these alternatives will exponentially increase across the EU so will the cost. This does not include the cost of what will be a major asset replacement programme. Therefore the overall cost is incalculable. This must be seen in the context of SF6 switchgear that at most has a leakage risk of no more than .01% which is well within any reasonable measure of risk.
  3. Why is SF6 used? - Network operators in the UK have traditionally used SF6 insulated switchgear because of its reliability, resilience and safety record. It is a proven technology. In terms of overall emissions it has the best record. In addition, it has the highest resistance to harsh environments, in particular floods, salt and humidity. This is a critical consideration as the equipment is at the very least partially exposed to the elements and often completely exposed. It is also pertinent as we plan for the increasing impact of climate change on network assets.

ENA is the voice of the networks representing the ‘wires and pipes’ transmission and distribution network operators for gas and electricity in the UK and Ireland.

For further information please contact:

Tim Field MCIPR,
Head of Press and Public Affairs
Energy Networks Association
E: [email protected]
T: +44 (0)207 706 5157
M: +44 (0)7725 372 758
W: www.energynetworks.org

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