Training the Trade – Center of Excellence for CHP

Use of a residential unit during class, © forumKWK

The German chamber of crafts and trades of Osnabrück-Emsland-Grafschaft Bentheim has for about 15 years had a Berufsbildungs- und Technologiezentrum, a center of excellence for building engineering and CHP plants in particular. Several years ago, this center made fuel cell heaters part of its portfolio. After the new heating technology became technologically and commercially viable, the focus of activities was expanded while the center itself was renamed “forumKWK.”

The reshuffling of priorities started with the FC CHP-Future project in 2014 when the center received its new name (see fig. 1). While forumKWK does cover every type of CHP design, the fuel cell has lately become its most prominent technology.

Courses mainly concentrate on the acquisition of expertise in life-like scenarios. At forumKWK, this hands-on experience translates into “skills” to distinguish them from theoretical content (“knowledge”). The classification is used for blended learning in training sessions (see box).

Requirements for installers

Specialists must have profound knowledge of the functionality, technology and requirements for the use of fuel cell heaters, prerequisites for their economic feasibility, etc. In response to requests and queries about CHP plants, these specialists need to provide clear, understandable and convincing explanations and present customers with detailed offers that cover items such as


If fuel cell heaters always provide both heat and power, tradesmen need to have added certifications to provide proof of having been trained in heating and electrical device installations.

After a customer places an order for installing and operating a fuel cell heater, the specialist needs a plan to

Naturally, customers expect to be eligible for government incentives and profit from grid feed-in after purchasing and installing a CHP plant. The fact that the eligibility criteria for these incentives may undergo continual and rapid changes means that customers may ask for advice and support from tradesmen or suppliers/utilities. To facilitate the market deployment of fuel cell heaters, specialists need to have some marketing skills as well.

Center of excellence equipment

The offline seminars at forumKWK provide fuel cell devices for assembly, measurement and functionality testing in teams of two. There is one residential fuel cell unit available per group of four (see fig. 2) to simulate and explain residential power and heat systems.

At present, forumKWK has two residential fuel cell heaters that supply both power and heat and identical units that are no longer operational. The, however, are used to identify device components (see fig. 3), install and remove them, explain their function or demonstrate maintenance and service. The defective units were set up in close vicinity to the operational ones to allow participants to compare components and draw conclusions regarding the differences in heating curves, weak or strong vibrations. and pressure and temperature gauges.

“In 2016, we conducted a good dozen – usually, one-day – seminars on fuel cell heaters at forumKWK in Osnabrück, eight of them with apprentices only. Our experience has been that fuel cell heaters were an abstract idea to the apprentices, who could not relate to the concept until the seminar started and made them more open to and curious about the idea. After it was over, their views had changed.”

Not only somewhere, but all over Germany

Anyone participating in the training courses can draw up their own learning schedule to complete the online module. Module 1 communicates the basics. A test offered by forumKWK after completion will show trainees whether they learned enough about the issues to proceed. Module 2 starts with detailed preparations for the hands-on seminar at forumKWK. Another knowledge quiz will signal participants when the time is right to attend it.

The one-day events provide practical experience and are always grounded in activities that participants were prepared for by the online modules. Examples of such activities include

A network has been established to support the hands-on seminars by having organizations specialized in job training collaborate at regional level, assist each other and respond to differing demand for information on fuel cell heaters.

One main benefit of this strategy is that while all partners of the network provide identical e-learning content throughout Germany, they can offer the seminars close to participants’ homes. In addition to cutting down on travel back and forth and avoiding the cost of overnight stays, this will make it possible to join another group seminar in a bigger city in the region.

The following organizations are members of the network:

Blended Learning

Blended Learning is a kind of hybrid, integrated approach that combines two methods. First, there is the online offer of content, which students can access anytime from anywhere. Second, there is the joint seminar to enable trainees to apply and communicate the expertise and skills they gained. Blended Learning uses the opportunities of digital media and traditional teaching methods and materials to teach, inform, exchange ideas and experiences.

Based on blended learning, forumKWK …

Author: Professor Manfred Hoppe, Forschungsgruppe Praxisnahe Berufsbildung, University of Bremen, Germany

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