Addressing the challenges of an aging infrastructure

FirstEnergy works with ABB to make the switch to a safer, more sustainable SF6-free switchgear solution.

In the transmission and distribution of electricity, sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) is widely used around the world as an insulating gas in medium and high-voltage equipment. While SF6 is commonly used in the energy sector in switchgear, transformers and other electrical equipment for insulation, it is a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

Utilities and energy providers around the world have pad-mounted switchgear units that use SF6 gas as their insulation medium. As the demand for electricity increases, the chance of SF6 leaks from additional switches and circuit breakers also grows. Many communities are taking steps to update their equipment and transition to SF6-free alternatives.

ABB’s Elastimold® solid-dielectric switchgear addresses environmental concerns and reduces maintenance.

FirstEnergy, a Midwest investor-owned utility, needed to replace several aging units. The equipment served a retail mall and surrounding development near Cleveland, Ohio.

FirstEnergy’s primary issue with the SF6 switchgear equipment came to light as the equipment developed a slow leak and FirstEnergy maintenance crews were periodically deployed to top off the SF6 gas to keep the switchgear in service. To prevent the leak from accelerating and causing a forced outage, FirstEnergy worked with the ABB Installation Products team on a reliable replacement solution.

Existing site challenges

The aging equipment supporting this area and the existing site posed several challenges:

  • Retain single-sided cabinet design due to lack of back access
  • Complex and narrow concrete foundation
  • No new concrete or soil work could be performed

FirstEnergy’s requirements for the replacement switchgear included:

  • Maintenance-free or low maintenance
  • Highly reliable
  • Minimize outage time and coordination during replacement
  • Reuse existing pad with a space-saving footprint
  • Drop-in-place solution to avoid the need for new terminations or cabling
  • Minimal training of crews to operate the new equipment

Finding the right fit with FirstEnergy

With these considerations in mind, FirstEnergy selected ABB’s Elastimold® solid-dielectric switchgear drop-in retrofit, consisting of Elastimold® molded vacuum switches (MSV) and molded vacuum interrupters (MVI) with self-powered controls.

The Elastimold solid-dielectric switchgear is virtually maintenance-free since it contains no oil or gas to be monitored or maintained. It’s safer for the environment AND safer for residents and electrical crews due to its dead-front construction that has no exposed energized components.

Elastimold solid-dielectric switchgear are designed, assembled and tested at ABB’s Hackettstown, New Jersey facility. The Elastimold engineers at the ABB R&D center partnered with FirstEnergy to address the challenges with a compact and creative solution.

Electrifying commercial applications in a safe way

Download the related case study to learn more about how ABB’s space-saving switchgear provides FirstEnergy with a future-ready solution designed to deliver years of service, helping increase reliability and safety while decreasing cost and environmental concerns.

As part of the ABB Installation Products portfolio of electrification solutions, Elastimold® products are available in North America and can be found at

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About the author

Brent Schwartzwald

Brent Schwartzwald is an Outside Application Engineer for ABB Installation Products since 2018, working with utilities and energy providers across the country on safe, smart and sustainable medium voltage solutions. He has over 30 years of experience in the electric utility industry, previously working with ABB as a Key Account Manager for the Mid-Central region.
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