Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Green Energy Has a Greenhouse Gas Emissions Problem, but Solutions Are Near

Energy
Setting and testing the line protections for Siemens SF6 gas insulated switchgear in 2007. Xaf / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0

Electricity from renewable sources is growing exponentially as the technology allows for cheaper and more efficient energy generation, but there is a dark side that has the industry polluting the most powerful greenhouse gas known to humanity, as the BBC reported.


Sulfur hexafluoride, or SF6, is an inexpensive, colorless, odorless gas used that the electrical industry uses to prevent accidents and short circuits. It is remarkably effective at insulating medium and high-voltage electrical installations, which prevents electrical mishaps and fires. However, one kilogram of SF6 produces the global heating equivalent of 23,500 kg of carbon dioxide according to most recent estimates.

To put that in perspective, one kilogram of SF6 adds the carbon equivalent of 24 people flying round trips from New York to London, as the BBC reported.

For the most part, SF6 is well contained, but leaks are hard to notice, and in 2017, leaks in the European Union were equivalent to putting 1.3 million more cars on the road, as the BBC reported.

"We make measurements of SF6 in the background atmosphere," said Dr. Matt Rigby who works in atmospheric chemistry at the University of Bristol, to the BBC. "What we've seen is that the levels have increased substantially, and we've seen almost a doubling of the atmospheric concentration in the last two decades."

However, there is no reason to assail renewable energy sources as a significant polluter. While the amount of SF6 used has doubled recently as various methods of capturing electricity, like wind, solar, gas and geothermal feed into the power grid, which creates a need for more electrical switches and circuit breakers, the amount that leaks contribute to the climate crisis is a minuscule fraction.

In fact, in the United Kingdom, SF6 leaks accounted for 0.11 percent of Great Britain's greenhouse gas emissions in 2017, according to data from the UK's National Atmospheric Emissions.

However, the use of SF6 is expected to grow by 75 percent by 2030, which has led to a backlash, new gear to prevent leaks, and the search for greener ways of preventing mishaps.

The UK's National Grid has sought a solution to replace SF6 since 2010. In 2016, 3M Company installed an alternative to SF6 at an insulated gas line in southeast England. The new insulation has 98 percent less impact on global warming than SF6, according to the data from the National Grid and from 3M Company.

Additionally, a new set of wind turbines that Siemens installed off the east coast of England will feature 102 units of high-voltage switchgear that is completely SF6 free. "As a result, not only the generation of power but also its transmission and distribution are climate-neutral," said Siemens in a statement.

The European Union has also ramped up its efforts to reduce all the fluorinated gasses that seep into the atmosphere and will bring them down to 15 percent of their current of levels by 2036, according to the European Environmental Agency.

A recent study out of the University of Cardiff that found that found a significant increase in the use of SF6 also concluded that the clean energy industry is on the path to solving the SF6 problem.

The study concluded, "Industry-led projects are also readily being explored to trial alternative insulation gases to counteract this problem and demonstration sites are being setup by all distribution and transmission network operators in order to find a solution to replace SF6. Industry-led projects are expected to produce better equipment with improved leakage mitigation to help curb the problem with all network and distribution network operators committed to reducing SF6 losses."

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. JustTulsa / CC BY 2.0

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

Read More Show Less
The Firefly Watch project is among the options for aspiring citizen scientists to join. Mike Lewinski / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tiffany Means

Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.

Read More Show Less
People sit at the bar of a restaurant in Austin, Texas, on June 26, 2020. Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars to be closed by noon on June 26 and for restaurants to be reduced to 50% occupancy. Coronavirus cases in Texas spiked after being one of the first states to begin reopening. SERGIO FLORES / AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.

Read More Show Less
A never-before-documented frog species has been discovered in the Peruvian highlands and named Phrynopus remotum. Germán Chávez

By Angela Nicoletti

The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.

Read More Show Less
Left: Lemurs in Madagascar on March 30, 2017. Mathias Appel / Flickr. Right: A North Atlantic right whale mother and calf. National Marine Fisheries Service

A new analysis by scientists at the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that lemurs and the North Atlantic right whale are on the brink of extinction.

Read More Show Less
Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular. Colin Dunn / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Julia Vergin

It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Data from a scientist measuring macroalgal communities in rocky shores in the Argentinean Patagonia would be added to the new system. Patricia Miloslavich / University of Delaware

Ocean scientists have been busy creating a global network to understand and measure changes in ocean life. The system will aggregate data from the oceans, climate and human activity to better inform sustainable marine management practices.

EcoWatch sat down with some of the scientists spearheading the collaboration to learn more.

Read More Show Less