While dramatic increases are expected in the use of alternative refrigerants, particularly in the light of the recently agreed European F-gas revisions, surveys have shown that training in handling many of these toxic, flammable or high pressure refrigerants is lacking.
The Institute of Refrigeration, working as part of the REAL Alternatives project, has been investigating with key stakeholders just how ready we are for the wider uptake of alternatives. These include carbon dioxide, hydrocarbon, ammonia and low gwp flammables, and what skills issues might need to be addressed.
REAL Alternatives is a European-wide learning programme established in November 2013 and funded by the EU Leonardo Life Long Learning Programme (Plugging the skills gap in low GWP refrigerants 25/11/13). It was set up to improve knowledge in the service and maintenance of these refrigerants in new systems from the point of view of safety, efficiency, reliability and containment.
Earlier this year a survey was carried out via five European partner organisations. The results from over 100 detailed responses from a wide variety of companies showed that there is a high level of awareness of information and guidance on the use of alternative refrigerants. However, employers were concerned that accessible and reliable training would be needed to address concerns around fundamental skills of technicians and designers. The safety, reliability and efficiency of alternative refrigeration systems in Europe could be at risk due to lack of availability of expertise and skills in design, component selection, installation, service and maintenance and containment of refrigerant.
The survey responses also pointed towards the need to have a mix of approaches to upskilling the current workforce – including in-house updates, external training sessions, self study etc. For individuals and employers there was a strong desire for learning to be formally assessed and certified to make this valuable.
Based on this feedback the REAL Alternatives project is developing a blended learning skills template of training needs. This will be used to prepare free e-learning modules and booklets – resources that can be studied individually or adapted by training providers to produce courses and in-house training sessions. The material will integrate the best of the existing industry guidance and on line tools which have been reviewed by the project and collected into a central electronic library hosted here.
For the whole of the EU the delivery of training in alternatives refrigerants is likely to be a long term project given the 20 year phase down period, the size of the work force and current skills levels identified. In the UK alone there are currently around 30,000 individuals who are already F-gas certified. The F-gas Regulations do not require a mandatory retraining or reassessment of existing qualified persons – but they will require that information on alternatives technologies and legislation be made available to those already certified.
With some European countries yet to introduce their existing F-gas certification for individuals and a growing interest in refrigerant containment from outside of Europe there is likely to be plenty of scope for extending the principles of REAL Zero to containment of all refrigerants – not just in the EU.