Technical training is the backbone of the HVAC&R industry, and what enables it to continue evolving and embracing new technologies. Indeed, it is the lack of confidence in technicians’ training and qualifications that is cited by many industry players as a key deterrent to the adoption of natural refrigerant-based technology.
But as other factors drive the uptake of natural refrigerant systems, greater attention is being given to training. That trend will continue in 2021, with many stakeholders, from to OEMs to schools and associations, stepping up their training offerings for natural refrigerants.
Across the industry, many OEMs that provide natural refrigerant equipment to supermarkets are confident that training opportunities will increase. “Green technologies are on the rise, and there will be a higher demand for trained technicians and a higher number of trained staff as a consequence,” said Donatas Plauska, Head of Sales for Lithuanian OEM Freor.
The increasing number of CO2 (R744) and propane (R290) installations will naturally go hand in hand with more training opportunities, noted Richard Gilles, Senior Product Leader, Distributed Solutions for Hussmann, a St. Louis, Missouri (U.S.) OEM that provides training for its supermarket equipment.
Andreas Meier, CEO of Teko, a German commercial and industrial OEM, is confident that the number of trained technicians will increase rapidly as more training is offered on natural refrigerant technology around the world. According to Meier, this is leading to natural refrigerant training becoming a commodity.
For industrial operators, U.S. OEM Evapco offers a training program called ACES (Apply, Construct, Execute & Service) for its packaged, low-charge ammonia Evapcold products. Kurt Liebendorfer, Vice President of Evapco, said the company is investing in expanding its operator and technical training opportunities, spurred by its increasing market share and interest from customers.
U.S. OEM Heatcraft Worldwide Refrigeration has received many training requests and will be offering more opportunities in 2021, along with specific training and commissioning after the launch of new systems, said Greg Minch, Key Account Manager for Heatcraft.
Canadian industrial refrigeration contractor Cimco, which has numerous ammonia and CO2 installations at ice rinks and industrial locations, will be “widely spreading our training in every region” as “some regions have more knowledge than others,” said Benoit Rodier, Director of Business Development at Cimco.
OEMs’ focus on natural refrigerant training should pressure educational institutions to increase training offerings that include certifications, said Wynand Groenewald, Founder of Future Green Now, a South African consultancy. “I am sure that training institutions are not seeing the business potential [of being] certified on naturals. That is why I am confident that training opportunities will increase.”
That’s happening in Estonia, where technicians must reapply for certification every five years. By the end of 2020, the country’s Environmental Research Centre, will be offering a new course enabling technicians to specialize and be certified in CO2, ammonia, or hydrocarbons. Stanislav Štõkov, Specialist at the Centre, believes that, along with an increased focus on natural refrigerant training, an f-gas recycling system must be created for those “whose financial state isn’t the strongest to invest in alternatives at the moment.”
Collin Bootsveld of Colruyt Group, a Belgium-based food retailer, credits RealAlternatives4Life, an EU-backed multi-stakeholder program, for disseminating natural refrigerant training information. In Belgium, the program partners with UC Leuven-Limburg, a major university with which Colruyt has cooperated on setting up training on flammable refrigerants. Colruyt donated a propane compact chiller to the university, which “serves as a platform for teaching and testing,” he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has cut into in-person training opportunities this year, moving some to the Internet, and this will no doubt continue in 2021. At the Danish Technological Institute (DTI), Claus Schøn Poulsen, Center Manager, said he feels fortunate that DTI is still able to deliver physical training throughout Denmark that provides hands-on experience.
“Green technologies are on the rise, and there will be a higher demand for trained technicians as a consequence,”– Donatas Plauska, Freor
In Australia, Stefan Jensen, Managing Director of Brisbane-based Scantec Refrigeration, contends that the country’s failure to provide adequate training “is now starting to have a significant impact on Australia’s ability to transition away from HFC refrigerants and towards natural refrigerants in a timely fashion.”
There are, however, advancements being made. AIRAH (Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air conditioning and Heating), plans to offer training that will include hydrocarbons, said Tony Gleeson, CEO and Company Secretary for AIRAH.
AIRAH is also supporting a project to build training pods where students will be taught to handle natural refrigerants, And it is advocating for HVAC&R trade licensing to cover all refrigerants in order to “significantly increase demand for technicians trained in handling natural refrigerants,” Gleeson said.