The important Role of Installers
Knowledgeable and motivated installers are a key condition for the success of solar thermal. Installers are the first to be asked about heating systems by private households. On the one hand, motivated craftsman take over an active role in marketing solar thermal systems. On the other hand, installers, who lack experience with this technology tend to discourage potential buyers from solar thermal.
Additionally, the lack of specific skill needed to install solar thermal components can lead to faulty installations. In several countries, bad installations have damaged the otherwise good reputation of this technology in the past. The quality of the hardware has already been addressed by ESTIF: With the Solar Keymark ESTIF has established a quality label, which helps the consumer to chose good quality products, which satisfy the European EN standards.
The Need for Training
But quality installations need not only good hardware, but also skilled installers. Knowledge and motivation can best be improved through training. Ideally, training in solar thermal is integrated in the standard training of installers. But to-day, training in renewable energies is still seen as an add-on, and installers have to pay extra money for it.
In the more dynamic markets installers see solar thermal as an opportunity to expand their business and are more willing to invest this extra costs. But others stay with conventional heating products. This has proven to be a barrier for the growth of solar thermal.
Overcoming the Lack of Skills and Motivation
A wide variety of training courses have emerged in Europe - partly with the help of public funds. They range from 4h-workshops to several months of specialised training. Some of them were developed by solar associations, others by manufacturers or by independent training providers.
SUNTRAIN - a useful European approach?
ESTIF has been active in the SUNTRAIN project, which aimed at improving the quality of training of installers and which ended in April 2004 (SUNTRAIN was supported by the European Commission's ALTENER Programme). The idea was to define the general key competencies a craftsman must have to install solar thermal systems safely and effectively. Training institutes and courses should then be accredited/certified by an independent body if they were found to teach these key competencies.
- The project started out with reports on the status quo in solar thermal training in four target countries: Greece, Germany, UK and Spain.
- A preliminary list of key competencies was then revised by a technical committee consisting of experts from various European countries.
- Based on these key competencies, a pilot accreditation of training bodies took place in early 2004.
Towards an ESTIF position:
An Expert Workshop on the "Quality of Installation"
In December 2003, ESTIF held an expert workshop in Brussels on the topic of "Quality of Installation". With it, we aimed at exchanging experiences with different approaches that had been pursued throughout Europe. Participants came from 7 different countries and represented national solar associations, manufacturers and service providers in the solar thermal sector.
The workshop began with short presentations:
- Italian Experiences: QualiSOL (1,7MB)(ALTENER project) and Solar Pass (3,7 MB)- Thomas Pauschinger, Ambiente Italia
- French Experience: Qualisol (0,5MB)(French national program) - Richard Loyen, ENERPLAN
- European Approach: SUNTRAIN (0,2MB) - Duncan Brewer, IT Power
The following discussion revealed the reservation of large parts of the sector towards a European wide accreditation/certification program for solar thermal training. Concerns were raised that such a program could not fully take into account the specific situation in the different countries, as the way installers are trained differs too much. Furthermore it was cautioned that even though it is proposed as a volunteer scheme, the participation in certified training courses could soon become mandatory, thus putting extra burden on installers and eventually hampering the development of the market.
ESTIF's Position on Training of Installers
Based on the results of the workshop, the ESTIF Board of Directors thoroughly reviewed the arguments and adopted a position paper on "Solar Thermal Training of Installers". The paper is addressed to the whole solar thermal sector and to policy makers who have to decide about the suitable means for supporting solar thermal.
The position paper contains the following recommendations:
- ESTIF welcomes initiatives aimed at improving the qualification of installers
- As solar thermal is moving into the mainstream, ST training should become an integral part of training/education of installers. ESTIF calls all regional/national bodies in charge of training/education of installers to integrate ST in their curriculum.
- Until ST is integrated into the standard training of installers, ESTIF encourages ST manufacturers as well as private or public training institutes to develop and offer courses for installers tailored to the specific needs of the local market.
- Installers are reluctant to spend much time and money on solar thermal training, if the local ST market is not large enough to justify such an investment. Successful courses should carefully consider the costs to be borne by the installer and develop their training offers accordingly.
- The European Commission could speed-up and improve the development of national training courses by supporting the exchange of experiences and training materials among different European countries as well as the diffusion of best practice in teaching and marketing of installer training
- Due to the very heterogeneous nature of training and education of installers in different EU countries, a EU-wide harmonisation of training programs or a EU-wide accreditation/certification of training courses is not recommended at this stage.
- Making financial incentives for ST systems dependent on a certified level of qualification of installers has proven to be a double-edged sword. Whilst it can help increase the quality of the performed installations, such a measure can compromise the effect of the financial incentive scheme, if a sufficient availability of certified installers is not given.
- ST manufacturers and wholesalers should continue their efforts to develop products easy to be installed and clear guidelines for installations.