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Launch pad

Competence on low-GWP refrigerants has long been a priority for contractors’ association AREA, culminating in the recent launch of the REAL Alternatives project, says Olivier Janin

AREA officially launched the REAL Alternatives project at the general assembly meeting on 9 May 2015 in Stockholm, with vice-president Marco Buoni presenting the project and its outcome to some 25 delegates representing 16 national air conditioning, refrigeration and heat pump contractors’ associations from 14 European countries.

The project aims at developing training materials for improving workforce skills in the refrigeration and air conditioning sector in alternative refrigerants (carbon dioxide, ammonia, flammable and low flammables).

The focus is on carbon dioxide, ammonia, hydrocarbons and HFO refrigerants. It will improve knowledge in the service and maintenance of these refrigerants in new systems from the point of view of safety, efficiency, reliability and containment.

The project is funded under the Leonardo da Vinci scheme and officially started on 1 October 2013 and will last until 30 September 2015.

Delivered through innovative blended learning – a mix of e-learning, face-to-face training materials, practical exercises, assessments and an e-library of learning resources – the programme brings together industry knowledge and expertise from across Europe.

AREA’s participation focuses on dissemination and involves the secretariat-general, as well as the president, Per Jonasson and the past president, Graeme Fox. The vice-president Marco Buoni is also involved through its national association ATF.

Competence on low-GWP refrigerants is a priority on which we have been working for several years.

Back in 2011, we issued guidance on the use of low-GWP refrigerants in refrigeration and air conditioning installations and on the basic competences that contractors dealing with such refrigerants should have.

During the revision of the F-Gas Regulation, we appealed for mandatory certification.

The HFC phase-down scheme will legislatively stimulate the development and uptake of alternative technologies, and notably natural refrigerants, all of which present safety risks (pressure, flammability, toxicity).

Mandatory certification including equipment working with natural refrigerant would have ensured safe, efficient and reliable installation and maintenance. Unfortunately, our request was not taken on board.

Although we did not succeed at legislative level, we felt it was our duty, as the voice of the European refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump contractors’ industry, to lead by example and give our recommendation on minimum competence requirements.

We have therefore published guidance on minimum requirements for contractors’ training and certification on low-GWP refrigerants.

It was recently updated with a list of training centres by AREA country.

Our participation in the REAL Alternative project is therefore both natural and necessary.

Natural because the project perfectly complements the work on competence on low-GWP Refrigerants that AREA has initiated and will continue in the coming years.

Necessary because the project targets refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump contractors.

The AREA network

AREA speaks for some 22 national associations from 19 European countries, representing more than 13,000 companies (mainly small to medium-sized enterprises), employing some 110,000 people.

Our network enables to reach these 110,000 operatives through our members – our role as responsible for dissemination was therefore logical.

The project has been running very smoothly.

After one and a half year, the consortium has managed to put together flexible learning programmes for use by individuals, companies and training providers.

The multi-lingual website provides interactive e-learning in five languages (more countries are interested in translating it), tracking spreadsheets, and standard on-line tests and controlled assessment papers with optional certification.

The e-learning is complemented with a searchable e-library with more than 100 free downloads.

The technical content of the materials is very comprehensive and addresses basic introduction (safety, efficiency, reliability and good practice), system design, containment and leak detection, maintenance and repair, retrofitting, checklist of legal requirements, measuring financial and environmental impacts and tools and guidance for site surveys.

Translations are ongoing and the materials will eventually be available in English, French, Italian, Dutch, German and Polish.

UK, Italy, Belgium, Poland and AREA already did their launching event. Germany will do so early June.

So far, nearly 400 e-learners have registered, which is more than planned at this stage.

Although we can only be proud of this result, we must now look at the future of the scheme after the project is officially completed in October this year.

Low-GWP refrigerants are increasingly used and we must ensure that they are handled by competent operatives. In the absence of harmonised requirements, REAL Alternatives provides an industry-led practical solution that can be used anywhere.

The challenge is important: insufficient competence increases incident risks.

Not only is this a concerning prospect in itself, but it could also result in the development of different types of requirements and consequently levels of competence throughout Europe.

In AREA, we support a uniform high-level standard for the whole European industry. REAL Alternatives certainly is a tool to achieve this objective.  

Olivier Janin is secretary-general at European contractor association AREA

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