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“Green” Energy Has Increased Emissions Of The Most Powerful Greenhouse Gas

September 14, 2019

By Paul Homewood


h/t Robin Guenier


The Law of Unintended Consequences, and all that!!



It’s the most powerful greenhouse gas known to humanity, and emissions have risen rapidly in recent years, the BBC has learned.

Sulphur hexafluoride, or SF6, is widely used in the electrical industry to prevent short circuits and accidents.

But leaks of the little-known gas in the UK and the rest of the EU in 2017 were the equivalent of putting an extra 1.3 million cars on the road.

Levels are rising as an unintended consequence of the green energy boom.

Cheap and non-flammable, SF6 is a colourless, odourless, synthetic gas. It makes a hugely effective insulating material for medium and high-voltage electrical installations.

It is widely used across the industry, from large power stations to wind turbines to electrical sub-stations in towns and cities. It prevents electrical accidents and fires.

However, the significant downside to using the gas is that it has the highest global warming potential of any known substance. It is 23,500 times more warming than carbon dioxide (CO2).

Just one kilogram of SF6 warms the Earth to the same extent as 24 people flying London to New York return.

It also persists in the atmosphere for a long time, warming the Earth for at least 1,000 years.

So why are we using more of this powerful warming gas?

The way we make electricity around the world is changing rapidly.

Where once large coal-fired power stations brought energy to millions, the drive to combat climate change means they are now being replaced by mixed sources of power including wind, solar and gas.

This has resulted in many more connections to the electricity grid, and a rise in the number of electrical switches and circuit breakers that are needed to prevent serious accidents.

Collectively, these safety devices are called switchgear. The vast majority use SF6 gas to quench arcs and stop short circuits.

"As renewable projects are getting bigger and bigger, we have had to use it within wind turbines specifically," said Costa Pirgousis, an engineer with Scottish Power Renewables on its new East Anglia wind farm, which doesn’t use SF6 in turbines.

"As we are putting in more and more turbines, we need more and more switchgear and, as a result, more SF6 is being introduced into big turbines off shore.

"It’s been proven for years and we know how it works, and as a result it is very reliable and very low maintenance for us offshore."

How do we know that SF6 is increasing?

Across the entire UK network of power lines and substations, there are around one million kilograms of SF6 installed.

A study from the University of Cardiff found that across all transmission and distribution networks, the amount used was increasing by 30-40 tonnes per year.

This rise was also reflected across Europe with total emissions from the 28 member states in 2017 equivalent to 6.73 million tonnes of CO2. That’s the same as the emissions from 1.3 million extra cars on the road for a year.


The reality is that “clean” energy simply  does not exist. To pretend that we can eliminate emissions of greenhouse gases and still maintain our lifestyles is a con trick.

  1. September 14, 2019 1:07 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate-

  2. Dick Goodwin permalink
    September 14, 2019 1:09 pm

    I guessed this one had the potential to leave a lot of egg on a lot of faces by the way the BBC picked it up quickly and tried to control the fallout from it. Just can’t wait for a comment from the Green lobby.

    • September 14, 2019 1:34 pm

      I agree Dick. From across the pond observing the BBC’s output on this blog this “admission”(?) appears to be damage control of some sort. Any agency, group, government that fesses up next, if at all, might have either the most to gain or loose. Follow the money: Is the BBC running interference for its support? Or is fame and glory being protected or enhanced?

      This will be an interesting topic. As with any big revelations, those involved may be in a PR crises mode at the moment. Like an onion, the “climate crises” wraps are slowly falling away exposing… nothing – “Ignore the man behind the green curtain!”

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      September 14, 2019 6:37 pm

      In what way have the BBC rowed back on their exaggerated claims?

  3. MrGrimNasty permalink
    September 14, 2019 2:29 pm

    As I said on the other thread where this was mentioned – it’s another non-problem, a flea is powerful compared to an elephant! It’s just negative PR for renewables but not a serious issue, I don’t know why they’ve raised it. But yet again, unnecessary CC alarm/energy nonsense causes yet another unforeseen negative consequence.

    If SF6 is equivalent to 1.3 million cars in 2017 it’s tiny, the EU bio-fuel mandate has supposedly cost the equivalent of 20 million cars by 2020.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      September 14, 2019 2:34 pm

      Correction, 12 million cars, not 20.

  4. September 14, 2019 2:35 pm

    You could always replace the SF6 with a lower GHG potential material like Mineral Oil Dielectric Fluid. Highly refined diesel. Or just stop using electricity.

    • Chaswarnertoo permalink
      September 15, 2019 10:25 am

      Daddy, what did we do for light before we had candles?
      We used electricity, son…….

  5. Jason permalink
    September 14, 2019 3:11 pm

    I’m uncomfortable with the casual acceptance of the term “greenhouse gases”.

  6. It doesn't add up... permalink
    September 14, 2019 3:49 pm

    I wonder why the chart here is strangely missing from the BBC article:

    It accounts for around 0.1% of UK CO2 equivalent emissions – another missing fact.

  7. john cooknell permalink
    September 14, 2019 4:00 pm

    From TAR 3/4 the AGW greenhouse effect from SF6 represents 1/10000 of the total from all human emissions of greenhouse gas, even if all the uncertainties, and assumptions proved to be worse case.

    Its just Matt McGrath being an idiot again, take no notice.

    SF6 is zero ODP, that is why it was picked. Ozone depletion was the story when a decision had to be made.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      September 14, 2019 7:38 pm

      Unusual Antarctic SSW is having an interesting effect on the Ozone hole apparently.

      • john cooknell permalink
        September 14, 2019 9:52 pm

        The Ozone hole has its own UN Secretariat they will say they caused the hole to close, their jobs depend on the problem being man made. So much science cannot be wrong!

      • dave permalink
        September 15, 2019 11:47 am

        There is an interesting (ignored) theory to the effect that CFC chemicals have caused most of the so-called global warming of the last fifty years, through effects on ozone reactions. And, therefore, it is suggested that “the healing of the hole” will coincide with a reversal. However it takes several decades for the CFC chemicals to disappear. Perhaps, the stock has now declined enough to begin to make a difference to the atmosphere?

        Also, the sun, itself, is quiet. No Cycle 25 spots at all. A Grand Minimum is still a possibility.

        The earliest stages of a La Nina are showing.

        The AMO and the PDO are due for a change of phase.

        A lot of things happening at the same time?

  8. September 14, 2019 4:21 pm

    “It is 23,500 times more warming than carbon dioxide (CO2)”.

    23,500 X 0 = 0.

  9. Michael Adams permalink
    September 14, 2019 5:06 pm

    I’m truly amazed that the BEEB ran this one. It doesn’t mean that much but it’s against the party line where everything green is positive.

  10. Colin MacDonald permalink
    September 14, 2019 5:42 pm

    Slightly off topic but I know someone who worked on the electrical side of a major wind turbine array off Germany. He told me off the intriguing properties of SF6, chiefly it’s extremely high density, apparently if you somone inhales the gas the first thing you should is hang the casualty upside down, thereby allowing the gas to drain from the lungs.

    • September 14, 2019 6:11 pm

      Yes, it’s about 5 times heavier than air, at sea level.

    • MrGrimNasty permalink
      September 14, 2019 7:48 pm

      That’s a bit of an urban myth/leg pull, fresh air and breathing is all that’s necessary. It does not get ‘stuck’ in your lungs because of the weight.

      People do a similar trick with SF6 as with Helium, only it makes the voice deep, not noticed any of them being hung upside down to recover!

    • Phoenix44 permalink
      September 16, 2019 8:38 am

      Good luck with that. That’s like trying to save someone who’s inhaled water by hanging them upside down. Your lungs are not empty sacks.

  11. September 14, 2019 9:50 pm

    We have a lot of SF6 in all our circuitbreakers and switchgear at the power stations where I work. For most on the LV side (>30kV) there is only a couple of kg per container. The big circuitbreakers on the 220kV grid contain about 100kg.
    We monitor our leakage – normally done by pressure and corrected back to a standard temperature – very carefully. Most years there is no leakage at all. The major consumption is when the equipment needs to be recharged after servicing.

    • john cooknell permalink
      September 14, 2019 10:04 pm

      At last somebody with some sense, the Global Warming Potential of SF6 in a bit of HV switchgear is zero.

      The leakage is monitored to ensure the equipment operates without fault, the gas pressure must be stable or the gear cannot be used.

      This story came from Matt McGrath, I have never rad anything from him that has a been coorect or useful, just an alarmist BBC journalist.

  12. john cooknell permalink
    September 14, 2019 10:29 pm

    What struck me in the Matt McGrath alarmist story is that the gaseous emissions of human civilisation are so harmless.

    CO2 and Methane are naturally occurring trace gases that vary in concentration due to lots of natural processes and are harmless or beneficial to life on earth.

  13. GeoffB permalink
    September 14, 2019 10:34 pm

    When I saw this report on the BBC and the reference to being the equivalent of 1.3 million cars, it was immediately obvious that the influence of SF6 was negligible. There are 38.2 million vehicles licensed in the UK. So why did the BBC run this non news report, with some comments on the need for more SF6 protected switchgear due to wind farms and solar farms. I think Matt McGrath just lost the plot OR maybe there is something going on at the BBC, recently we had the reality team giving a good account of forest fires, a recent criticism of smart meters. Hope so,

  14. September 15, 2019 6:47 am

    I noted how it is written –
    ” Across the entire UK network of power lines and substations, there are around one million kilograms of SF6 installed. A study from the University of Cardiff found that across all transmission and distribution networks, the amount used was increasing by 30-40 tonnes per year.”
    What I take that to mean is there is a thousand tonnes of SF6 in existing power stations and the new plant installed annually has 30-40 tonnes in it. There is also upgrading of existing plant included in this increase. It is not consumption or SF6 loss, it is just more plant.
    Scare tactics – give him the benefit of the doubt and say he just didn’t know what he was writing.

  15. Trevor Shurmer permalink
    September 15, 2019 9:06 am

    Sorry, am I reading this incorrectly? The text in the report say ‘As renewable projects are getting bigger and bigger, we have had to use it within wind turbines specifically,” said Costa Pirgousis, an engineer with Scottish Power Renewables on its new East Anglia wind farm, which doesn’t use SF6 in turbines’. Does the EA Array use, or not use, SF6, and if not, what does it use? Sorry if I’ve missed something, please advise.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      September 15, 2019 9:33 am

      There are basically three designs of circuit breaker. One uses oil, is cheap to install, but requires regular maintenance, which is undesirable offshore, but dominated in electricity grids historically. Another operates in a vacuum, and relies on specially shaped contacts to avoid creating an electric field that would cause arcing to concentrate in one area that would erode them. This is difficult to achieve for larger power flows, which is where the arc quenching properties of SF6 have reigned supreme. Many SF6 units are sealed for life, and therefore should not leak at all.

      • September 16, 2019 7:06 am

        I agree with you IDAU, The author of the newspaper article and many blog commenters think it is consumption being talked about. It is not and very little if any of the SF6 gets to atmosphere

  16. paul weldon permalink
    September 15, 2019 9:20 am

    The whole article is rubbish, it shows zero understanding of how the global warming potential of a GHG is calculated, and the figures given from the Cardiff study has been mis-quoted. If I were asked to defend the use of SF6 on behalf of the renewable industry, it would be only too easy to trash this article by an ignorant journalist. I am surprised at Paul’s comment on the article, as it assumes that this gas is actually as bad as it is given to be.
    From the original study, the use of the gas is increasing, but the emissions are actually going down (see the published graph from the BBC link). The figure given of CF6 being 23,500 times more powerful that CO2 is derived mainly from the residency time in the atmosphere and the concentration in the atmosphere. In the first instance we are comparing over 1000 years to that of CO2 at around 6 years. Concentration is measured in parts per trillion as opposed to ppm for CO2, so the effect at this concentration is much higher. If you do the maths differently, you find that for the same given concentration and over the same time period, there is little if any difference between the effect of the 2 gases. So the analogy to flights and cars is completely worthless.

  17. Athelstan. permalink
    September 15, 2019 10:18 am

    It’s perception not logistics and reality which counts, the whole dumbed down country is buying into a cosy fluffy world some – ‘green future’ and all built on foundations of moonbeam solidity.

    The tears will flow eventually but I’m just not sure any of ’em will be left alive to cry ’em.

  18. MrGrimNasty permalink
    September 15, 2019 2:11 pm

    Another dishonest/delusional letter from ex-BBC eco-zealot Richard Black ECIU in the MoS letters today. In summary:-

    The recent power cut was due to a number of factors highlighting gas fault! The grid is getting more stable because of renewables, wind/solar are the cheapest, we need more!

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      September 15, 2019 7:45 pm

      Mendacious nonsense. From the final technical report we have

      16:52:33 – 150MW of embedded generation trips (vector shift)
      16:52:33.7 737MW of Hornsea wind trips
      16:52:34 244MW turbine at Little Barford trips
      ………………….350MW embedded generation trips (RoCoF)
      16:53:31 210MW turbine at Little Barford trips

      giving 1,691MW cumulative loss of which 454MW was at Little Barford and the remaining 1,237MW was renewables.

      16:53:49.4 Blackout triggered

      16:53:58 187MW of final turbine at Little Barford tripped out.

      The cumulative loss on renewables alone exceeded the 1GW reserve that the grid was running with. There is no question but that the grid is getting less stable with renewables, with the inertia constant projected to go as low as 2-3 seconds at times of high renewables.

  19. Carbon500 permalink
    September 15, 2019 8:18 pm

    Off topic, but according to the weekly ‘Rutland Mercury’, South Kesteven District Council has declared a ‘climate emergency’ and is poised to spend £50,000 on ‘advice and a new climate change officer’ – letters about this can be emailed to

  20. Phoenix44 permalink
    September 16, 2019 8:33 am

    What sort of measure is “24 people flying from London to New York”?

    Surely the aircraft produces almosthe exactly the same amount of CO2 if 250 people are on board?

    • Nial permalink
      September 16, 2019 8:55 am

      “What sort of measure is “24 people flying from London to New York”?”

      It’s 3 * “Greta boat recoverys” isn’t it?

  21. Jack Broughton permalink
    September 16, 2019 11:20 am

    The “I” today has let Tom Bawden loose again reporting on the “climate crisis”: he is similar to Hazbeen on the BBC in terms of science and cherry-piciking facts to support his junk-science . However, like the BBC, the “I” refuses to publish any unfavourable comments or criticisms of the junk-science that it purveys. Fake news anyone?

    It is disturbing how bodies like the CCC and IPCC can get away with their abuse of science. I was looking at the CCC costing for off-shore wind power in 2025 in a recent blog, the value used is £69 / MWh, half of current costs which do not allow for the cost of back-up power and non-reliability: who’s kidding who?

    The current raft of hysterical posts in the press as part of their “Climate Emergency Fear Campaign” are all based on IPCC models that used a Radiative Forcing Function that was agreed by a self-selected panel as the driver for the models and is several times higher than any scientific method can generate………science???

    • Michael Adams permalink
      September 16, 2019 11:36 am

      I’ve never seen anything relating to decommissioning costs of these off shore wind turbines. Are they calculated in with the cost of energy produced or will that be another cost to taxpayers as the owners will probably go bust at some point in the future?

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      September 16, 2019 1:03 pm

      Those costs relate only to marginal extra capacity installed at existing wind farms, where the grid strengthening measures are already in place for the original wind farm it takes no account of the costs of the existing wind farms. Nor does it ascribe the cost of interconnectors to Norway to allow subsidised exports of surplus wind and import backup at premium prices in competition with Germany and Denmark.

    • M.J permalink
      September 17, 2019 5:28 pm

      Just last week the media was describing the release of sulfur hexafluoride for wind turbines, bemoaning that it is the most powerful greenhouse known to man. Feel free to look up SF6’s IR absorption spectrum and discover that it really only has one peak, a very narrow peak equivalent to –1°C.

      Not only is SF6 in very low concentration (9 ppt, parts per trillion) in the atmosphere, it is transparent to almost all IR and could only back radiate warm something colder than –1°C. It’s a lie to the public that this is a “potent greenhouse gas”. 23,900 times worse than CO2.

      The claim was that leaks of this gas were equivalent to putting 1.3 million cars on the road, using decimals to pretend that some calculations were involved. As there is no basis in reality for these claims, it is all speculation, fabrication, and propaganda..

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