While renewable technologies are being hailed as the future of the plumbing & heating industry, APHC (Association of Plumbing and Heating Contractors) is warning that inadequate training is threatening to derail the drive for sustainable systems. APHC points out that while there has been a marked increase in the number of short courses covering various renewable technologies, some of the engineers taking them do not have the depth and breadth of knowledge to go on to install the new technologies safely and effectively.
The result is potentially costly and dangerous installations. Equally, however, engineers qualified in conventional systems must also recognise the need to update their skills with specialist training. Taking solar heating as an example, Lee Rose from Norfolk Solar comments: "˜We are regularly commissioned to put right poor installations that are, in the majority, the result of badly trained or untrained installers and specifiers. Unfortunately, some plumbing and heating professionals practised in conventional fuel installations too often seem to overlook the need for specialist training, instead seeing solar hot water systems as just another heating system.
"Examples I have seen include an exploding expansion vessel caused by a system unable to correctly manage steam expansion, components melting and discharging high temperature fluid or flashing to steam inside the building, and loud banging noises from system components on sunny days. "Unlike conventional heating appliances, solar systems can be exposed to temperatures from minus 30 to over 200 degrees C at pressures up to 6 BAR, and good training is the way to avoid unreliable and unsafe systems."
John Thompson, Technical Services Manager at APHC, adds: "Some of the new technologies out there are fantastic; consumers and companies alike are now starting to look into investing in them. However, without competent and properly trained installers, their investment is worth nothing. Plumbing and heating engineers need a solid grounding in plumbing and heating so they can understand renewable technologies properly. With many renewable technology installations happening alongside or as part of existing conventional systems, this grounding is crucial.
"Ideally, new entrants should be trained to NVQ level 3 and have a recognised qualification in the renewable technology to be installed from City & Guilds, BPEC or any other recognised training provider. Installers within the existing qualified workforce must undertake one of the recognised solar upskilling courses."