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Home / Technical Articles / Gas insulated substation (GIS) versus Air insulated substation (AIS)

Gas insulated substation (GIS) design

The metal-enclosed gas insulated switchgear> inherently follows the criteria for new substation design and offers a higher reliability and flexibility than other solutions. Due to the gas enclosed design, GIS is the most suitable solution for indoor and underground substations.

Gas insulated substation (GIS) design guidelines
Gas insulated substation (GIS) design guidelines (photo credit:

In outdoor and hybrid substations, the occupied area is tremendously reduced by using GIS technology!

GIS configurations can be applied to any type of bus bar arrangements:

  • Single busbar,
  • Double busbar,
  • Single busbar with transfer bus,
  • Double busbar with double circuit breaker,
  • One and a half circuit breaker scheme and
  • Ring busbar.

More about switching configurations you can read here. Figure 2 shows the layout of a GIS substation based on single line diagram in Figure 1.

Single line diagram of double busbar
Figure 1 – Single line diagram of double busbar

In Figure 2 it may be observed how the compact design of GIS reduces substation area tremendously (at least 70%) compared to the same AIS configuration! This fact allows GIS to become the choice of preference for indoor and underground substation.

Layout of double busbar GIS
Figure 2 – Layout of double busbar GIS

For a better appearance, an underground GIS substation can be design with an aesthetic view that hides its presence. The existence of a substation could be designed so that it cannot even be recognized, such as given in example in Figure 2.

Overview of an underground GIS substation
Figure 3 – Overview of an underground GIS substation (photo credit: ABB)

GIS performs the same function as AIS. The compact and metal-enclosed design of GIS has prominent advantages and better performance than AIS. However, the high initial investment is a key obstacle in expanding the application of GIS.

In remote or rural area, industrial areas or in developing countries, AIS is still the best choice. In places where the cost of land or cost of earthworks is high or where the sceneries cannot be disturbed by AIS, the solution is to use underground or indoor GIS.

Different type of substations has different advantages which come from its components and design. The characteristics of GIS and AIS are given in the following table.

Design characteristic of GIS and AIS

CharacteristicsAir Insulated Switchgear Gas Insulated Switchgear
Type of installationOutdoorOutdoor Outdoor Indoor
Metal-encapsulated circuit breakerxX x
Metal-encapsulated disconnectorX x
Metal-encapsulated earthing switchX x
BusbarAir insulatedAir insulated Air insulated Gas insulated
SF6 insulated current transformerX x
SF6 insulated voltage transformerX x
Direct cable or SF6/oil terminationX x

From the table, the difference in design characteristics may be observed. As may be noted, the GIS designs are supposed to be applied where one or more of the following features are desirable:

  • Limited space,
  • Extreme environmental conditions,
  • Required low environmental impact and
  • Less maintenance.
The low failure rate of GIS is also a prominent advantage. But the outage time (56 hours), double outage time of AIS (25 hours), is one of the disadvantages.

Economics – Life cycle cost (LCC) comparison

Regarding economics, initial capital investmentis not enough to evaluate the overall substation project. Life Cycle Cost (LCC) should be considered, including primary hardware cost, maintenance cost, operation cost, outage cost and disposal costs.

The LCC comparison of AIS and GIS is as follows:

1. Primary hardware

Primary hardware for primary equipment, GIS is more expensive than AIS. However, the price of auxiliary equipment such as support, conductors, land, installation, control, protection and monitoring can lead to a cost difference between the two systems being small.

GIS and AIS substation space
Figure 4 – GIS and AIS substation required space (photo credit: Asif Eqbal, Manager at Alstom Grid)

2. Maintenance

The failure rate of circuit breaker and disconnecting switch in GIS is one-fourth of that of AIS and one tenth in case of busbar, thus the maintenance cost of GIS is less than that of AIS over the lifetime.

3. Operation cost

The maintenance cost of GIS and AIS shall be equivalent. The cost for training in GIS is higher than in AIS.

4. Outage cost

Since the failure rate of GIS is lower, the outage cost of AIS shall be greater.

5. Disposal cost

The cost of decommissioning and disposal after use should be capitalized. The value of future expense must be taken into account.

The general conclusion about the LCC advantages of AIS versus GIS cannot be easily reached. Hence it can only be determined in specific project. An example below illustrates the LCC comparison. In this example, GIS and AIS use H-configuration with three circuit breakers.

Figure 4 shows the design of AIS and GIS solutions.

GIS and AIS solutions in H-configuration
Figure 4 – GIS and AIS solutions in H-configuration

Table 2 – LCC evaluation of AIS and GIS (based on calculation conducted by a utility)

Life Cycle CostAir insulated substation
Gas insulated substation
Planning and Engineering100%80%
Real estate100%40%
Primary equipment 100%120%
Secondary equipment 100% 100%
Earthwork, civil work, structures 100%60%
Electrical assembly and erection 100% 70%
Maintenance 100%50%
Outage 100%50%
LCC after 10 years 100%Max 70% 

The latest GIS technology has less environmental impact than previous technology. The SF6 leakage rate is less than 1% (in experiment <0.5%). Due the design characteristics, GIS has a better impact on environment than AIS.

Table 3 – Environment impact comparison of AIS and GIS

Primary energy consumption100% 73%
Area requirement100%14%
Acidification potential100%81%
Greenhouse potential100%79%
Nitrification potential100%71%

As observed, GIS offers many prominent advantages over AIS. It meets all requirements for new substation design, except high initial investment and potential environmental risk.

This disadvantage and the ever increasing environmental awareness become the drivers for a new generation of GIS that complies with future green field substation criteria.

Substation GIS Overview (VIDEO)

Reference // The 21st Century Substation Design by Mladen Kezunovic, Ph.D., P.E. (Power Systems Engineering Research Center)

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More Information

Edvard Csanyi

Electrical engineer, programmer and founder of EEP. Highly specialized for design of LV/MV switchgears and LV high power busbar trunking (<6300A) in power substations, commercial buildings and industry facilities. Professional in AutoCAD programming.


  1. David J
    Oct 28, 2020

    Hi Edvard,

    thanks for the informative article. Always good to hear a balanced arguement.

    One question – do you have more information or a source for the statement:
    “The low failure rate of GIS is also a prominent advantage. But the outage time (56 hours), double outage time of AIS (25 hours), is one of the disadvantages.”


  2. Suman Pathak
    Sep 30, 2020

    Dear Sir, Can you elaborate both GIS and AIS substations somewhat more in brief with some real Pictures . Somewhat AIS contents is less .

  3. Abdul Majeed Sahito
    Apr 16, 2019

    Dear Sir What is the Difference B/W GIS and AIS Tell me Suitable answer and why use for Indoor and why not use for outdoor GIS ?

  4. Karl Cunningham
    Mar 30, 2019

    Edvard, why did you not mention the safety advantages? This would appear to be the biggest advantage and most important reason for selecting GIS.

  5. Jim Boy
    Sep 26, 2018

    Sir, do you a sample estimated cost of GIS substation? Thanks.

  6. Towqeer Usmani
    Jun 11, 2018

    Hello, i need to ask you something very important. Do you have whatsapp contact or any thing like that ?

  7. Rebecca Ashley
    May 02, 2018

    Do you have any references for these numbers?

  8. Kalaichezhiyan P
    Dec 06, 2016

    Great write-up.

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