Contractor Network Boosts Natural Refrigerants
Refrigeration contractors who are looking to promote their companies’ expertise in the growing natural refrigerants market can get a boost from a network sponsored by the North American Sustainable Refrigeration Council (NASRC). The Natural Refrigerants Service Network is up and running and can be accessed at www.nasrcnetwork.org. It’s designed to provide prospective customers and end users with information about contracting firms in their areas that are trained and knowledgeable in installing, maintaining, and servicing equipment that uses natural refrigerants.
The global market for natural refrigerants, including ammonia (R-717); carbon dioxide (CO2, R-744); and hydrocarbons, such as propane (R-290) and isobutane (R-600a), is forecast to reach $1.4 billion by 2020, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.5 percent between 2015 and 2020, according to a report published by research firm MarketsandMarkets.
Danielle Wright, executive director, NASRC, said the Natural Refrigerants Service Network was originally conceived to address the issue of end users having trouble finding contractors who were knowledgeable in natural refrigeration systems. It quickly evolved to become a useful tool for contractors, too. The site is free for contractors and end users alike.
“One end user approached us about servicing their propane units after finding out there wasn’t comprehensive coverage through the manufacturer they were working with,” Wright said. “They wondered if there was a resource they could use to locate contractors who had experience with natural refrigerants.
“We took that thread and spoke with a number of contractors who work with natural refrigeration systems and found that there was nowhere for them to really advertise their skill set,” she continued. “So we saw an opportunity to address two issues at the same time by creating the Natural Refrigerants Service Network website.”
The site allows end users to search for contractors either by location or by refrigerant type, and it allows contractors to create a searchable business listing that showcases their expertise in the field of natural refrigerants. It also includes sections for product manufacturers, events, job listings, and — with an eye toward the future — an area for students to find training opportunities.
A CHANCE TO BREAK INTO THE ‘CLUB’
Professional HVACR Services Inc., Avon Lake, Ohio, is a charter member of the network. Joseph Kokinda, president and CEO, Pro HVACR, said he sees the site as a way to disseminate information not only about his company but also about natural refrigerants in general.
“The OEMs have their contractors, and the big end users have their contractors, and it can be difficult for a local operator to break into that club,” Kokinda told The NEWS. “At my company, we have everyone trained by RSES [Refrigeration Service Engineers Society] on working safely with propane, and I get out and pound the pavement and knock on doors. But it can be really hard for a mom-and-pop contractor to get any kind of work from the big OEMs and end users.”
That is an unfortunate situation Kokinda hopes the network can help mitigate. He noted that, in some cases, a large contractor will step in and install a natural refrigerant system for a customer but won’t provide maintenance and service after the install. This presents an opportunity for smaller, local refrigeration contractors who are part of the network.
“Supermarkets or convenience stores are looking for local companies that have well-trained technicians to handle the service and maintenance on their natural refrigerant systems,” he said.
In fact, the availability of local service and maintenance can often make or break the choice to install a natural refrigeration system in the first place.
“When I talk to end users about trying natural refrigerant technologies in a store, one response I often get is they are very concerned they wouldn’t be able to find someone to maintain it, and this prevents them from piloting new technologies,” said Keilly Witman, owner of KW Refrigerant Management Strategy and co-chairman of the board of directors of NASRC. “Nothing is scarier than the idea of someone not being able to repair a system when it goes down.”
TARGETING TRAINING RESOURCES
Kokinda added that while the the network has the potential to help his company earn new business, in the bigger picture, he hopes the “students” area of the site grows to help address the challenge faced by the entire HVACR industry — the shortage of well-trained technicians.
“It doesn’t matter what type of refrigerants we’re talking about, we’re all in trouble until we figure out a way to attract more people to work in the trade,” he said.
Wright said she believes the site will ultimately help close the skills gap and ease the technician shortage in the natural refrigerants industry.
“We want this website to serve as a place to find training resources, so we’re working with equipment manufacturers and other organizations that provide training,” she said. “We want to create a central space for contractors to be able to locate training that is vendor-specific as well as trainings and certifications that are available through local trade associations or unions.”
A MARKET MOVING FORWARD
Another charter member of the network, Eastern Refrigeration Co., Colchester, Connecticut, is seeing strong growth in CO2 systems. Stan Shumbo, vice president and co-owner, said Eastern has installed several secondary and cascade systems and just finished a transcritical CO2 project.
“We’ve worked with major national chains, but we also just finished working with an upscale independent grocery store on a CO2 system,” he said. “The owners are looking at the future and see natural refrigerants as providing many years of service without needing to be changed out because of regulations.”
Shumbo said he expects the natural refrigerants market to continue to move forward, and being a part of the Natural Refrigerants Service Network will help Eastern Refrigeration highlight the projects it has completed, and the systems, equipment, and services it offers, while helping to promote CO2 and other natural refrigerants.
When asked what he would tell another contracting firm that was interested in natural refrigerants and the NASRC, Shumbo said he would advise them not to be afraid to learn about naturals.
“Getting people trained on naturals is not as big a deal as many people make it out to be,” he said. “Yes, propane is flammable and CO2 systems operate at high pressures, so you must be cautious. But, with the combination of training and experience, technicians can work very safely on natural refrigeration systems.”
Wright concluded that part of the NASRC’s mission is to “hammer at the hurdles” for natural refrigerant adoption, and the Natural Refrigerants Service Network is another step to that end.
“When we heard about this issue of connecting end users and contractors, we knew we had to take action,” she said. “The NASRC Network is meant to bring people together. We expect this tool to be a major business building opportunity as well as a solution for end users”
Publication date: 2/19/2018