GE Grid Solutions receives DOE grant

Paul Peterra

GE Grid Solutions in Charleroi has received more than $2 million from the U.S. Department of Energy for a project geared toward removing a harmful greenhouse gas from the United States Electrical Grid.

That gas is sulfur hexafluoride, also known as SF6, an extremely potent and persistent greenhouse gas primarily used as an electrical insulator and arc suppressant.

“We already have some excellent traction in SF6-free technology in Europe,” explained Lionel Chailleux, dead-tank breaker product leader for GE Grid Solutions. “We recognize that technology is extremely promising to ultimately replace SF6. It’s already a proven technology for Europe. The challenge is how do we develop the products for the U.S. grid. It’s a very specific grid with very specific constraints.”

The technology to which he referred is called g3, seen as the alternative to SF6 for high-voltage applications. According to information provided by GE Grid Solutions, g3 products feature a reduced global warming potential that is 99% less than SF6 products.

In fact, GE recently was awarded $3.7 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to accelerate decarbonization of the U.S. electrical grid with the g3 technology.

The Charleroi plant will handle the development and manufacturing of the dead tank circuit breaker, an eco-friendly outdoor HVAC power circuit breaker which will help reduce dependence on SF6 technology in the U.S. electrical grid.

“When we were putting together this proposal we were demonstrating that we had the right team to execute this type of ambitious program,” Chailleux said. “We’re basically taking our existing designs with SF6 technology and adapting it for g3.”

SF6 is significantly more potent than carbon dioxide. During normal use, SF6 is inert. However, when electrical discharges occur within SF6-filled equipment, toxic byproducts can be produced that pose a threat to the health of workers who come into contact with them.

“SF6 is recognized as the molecule having the highest global warming potential,” said Bertrand Portal, g3 product manager for GE’s Grid Solutions. “One kilo of SF6 is equivalent to 23,500 kilos of CO2 (carbon dioxide). Every year, there are 450 tons of SF6 installed on the U.S. grid.”

Portal added that with that formula taken into consideration, more than 11 million tons of CO2-equivalent is installed in the U.S. grid annually. Replacing the SF6 gas with g3 technology would represent a significant reduction in CO2-equivalent, comparable to about 2.5 million passenger vehicles on the road during a one-year period, he said.

Chailleux said the project is expected to commence at the beginning of 2022.

“We have three years to execute that award,” he said. “It’s about designing all the parts that need to be changed so the breaker can operate with g3. We’re going to take our SF6 design and make it g3 compatible.”

The U.S. electrical grid is a complex network of more than 7,300 power plants and transformers connected by more than 450,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines, serving 145 million customers.

Grid Solutions is a GE renewable energy business focused on bringing together technologies and expertise to help solve the toughest power system challenges, accelerating the global transition to a greener, more resilient and reliable grid.

The Grid Solutions project is one of four in the country to be funded within this exploratory topic, with the others being in Atlanta, Ga.; Storrs, Conn., and Houston, Texas.