Thailand continues the conversion of its refrigeration and air-conditioning (RAC) sector towards natural refrigerants. The country is expanding the training of RAC professionals with the development of new curricula to prepare apprentices and university students, technicians, teachers and trainers to safely handle these climate-friendly and energy-efficient cooling agents.
This year, approximately 100,000 RAC appliances with natural refrigerants (so-called "Green Cooling technologies") will be available on the Thai market. The demand for Green Cooling technologies is projected to grow over the next 3 years and is expected to account for 50 per cent of market share. Considering the emerging market for Green Cooling appliances and the changing requirements promoted by the Kigali Amendment, the Montreal Protocol and the Paris Agreement, a strategy to train Thai technicians on the use of natural refrigerants is much needed.
In August 2019, Thailand’s first training programme on the safe use and handling of natural refrigerants was launched in collaboration with three key organisations: King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok (KMUTNB), the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) and GIZ. The modules were a combination of theoretical input and practical exercises and aimed at RAC trainers as well as chief technicians.
One year later, the piloted training series came to an end. In total 222 RAC trainers were trained and 8 training centres were established across the country. Despite the positive feedback, it became clear that there was still room for improvement in the training program. Participants noted that the course should be adjusted to better serve the local context, address broader target groups and be embedded in the curricula of the Office of the Vocational Education Commission (OVEC) and Department of Skill Development (DSD). This will help Thailand to build up enough RAC technicians to meet the growing demand in the long term.
Switching from one refrigerant to another is nothing new in the RAC sector. What is needed for such a transition is up-to-date knowledge on new technologies. Consequently, the workshop “Curriculum Development on the Safe Use and Handling of Flammable Refrigerants” was held in Ratchaburi from 26 to 28 August 2020. More than 35 representatives from KMUTNB, OVEC, DSD, the Thai Refrigeration Association (TRA) and GIZ participated to develop a curriculum suitable for the Thai context. The new training modules will serve broader target groups, i.e. service and industrial technicians, teachers and trainers, vocational and university students, as well as the general public. Furthermore, the curriculum will be embedded in the national system led by the Department of Skill Development (DSD) and Office of the Vocational Education Commission (OVEC) to ensure long-term competence serving as the basis for the transition towards Green Cooling.
Picture of workshop participants
Comments on the training
When asked about the training, Ms. Ratchawan Thongnuam, an instructor from Lampang Regional Institute for Skill Development, said: "DSD should place a strong focus on training AC technicians, especially those working for a company and freelancers, with an upgrade course on flammable refrigerants. Besides giving the trainees the basic knowledge, DSD can also serve as a testing institute and give out certifications."
A lecturer from Yasothon Technical College, Mr. Permpoon Ananta, shared his vision for OVEC, saying: "A module on the safe use and handling of flammable refrigerants should be integrated with the existing curriculum. It is important that instructors who teach refrigeration and air-conditioning engineering courses ensure that their students are equipped with the technical knowledge and practical skills in accordance with the safety protocols. OVEC has a mission to prepare its students at both the vocational and high vocational certificate levels for this changing industry." "There are more than 429 educational institutions under the supervision of OVEC and about 10,000 graduates entering the service workforce each year. We need to make sure they have all the knowledge and skills to hand,” he added.
Regarded as the national champions of natural refrigerant, a team of KMUTNB professors have passed on the knowledge gained from international experts to 222 head technicians, chief trainers and skill development instructors. This first group of trainees is now acting as knowledge multipliers in their respective networks. But what is next for the KMUTNB team now that all the training courses have ended?
Professor Rathaporn Rasami, one of the KMUTNB experts who ran the training, said: "To drive forward the shift to more sustainability, the KMUTNB should also focus on research and development (R&D) as well as training. As an academic institute, we can be a hub for holding seminars and organising training for RAC practitioners, entrepreneurs and the public."
For decades, Thailand has been reliant on synthetic refrigerants such as fluorinated gases. The country has only recently begun to implement a greener way of cooling and the enormous potential of natural refrigerants, namely hydrocarbons, for domestic and commercial refrigerators, air-conditioners and chillers.
With its zero-ozone depletion potential (ODP) and very low global warming potential (GWP), R290 is considered a key solution to environmental damage and positioned as the alternative for the next generation of refrigerants in room air conditioners. However, its use is hindered by its flammability and resulting safety concerns. Studies and testing have confirmed that the application of hydrocarbons is safe if safety standards (for ACs: IEC 60335-2-40 and TIS 1529) are met, and installation and servicing are conducted by trained technicians.
Comment Ms. Ratchawan Thongnuam
"Everyone should learn about the new refrigerant. R290 which, though flammable, is safe to use if you know how to handle it properly. It is like any other refrigerant. All you need to know is how to handle it safely."