27 October 2013

Heating your Spanish home during the winter

IT'S NOT sunshine and beach parties all year round in Spain. Temperatures drop dramatically inside properties during the winter due to lack of insulation. Moreover, 60% of Spanish homes built since 1979 have no minimum energy efficiency standards. This leaves winter residents with a dilemma on how best to heat their homes during the cold spell.

According to Which? – The UK’s ♯1 product testing consumer association – “The most cost-effective form of electric central heating uses night storage heaters. These heaters use electricity supplied at a cheaper ‘night-time’ rate to heat up special heat-retaining bricks. These bricks then heat your home around the clock using the heat stored in the bricks.” (www.which.co.uk)

Low running cost is the big bonus with night storage heaters. Used with the Day and Night Energy 14-hour cheap rate tariff they are by far the cheapest type of heater to run – pound for pound, half the running cost of any other electric heater available on the market.

There is also the added advantage of extra savings from electrical appliances with Day and Night Energy. For example, using the washing machine, one of the largest energy guzzlers in the home, during the cheap rate period will cut the running cost by half.

Night storage heaters are easy to install – no major building work, and no ugly pipes. There are no exposed cables, plus the switching controls are fitted neatly inside the Consumer Unit.

When it came to choosing a heating system in my casa, it was a no brainer. Plus keeping the boss happy goes a long way in my book. Mrs Sparks says "these storage heaters ain’t like those big ones your granny had, they look very modern."

Contact us for a home survey.

20 October 2013

Spain's solar industry in crisis

"SPAIN APPROVES tax on solar panels. It's a complete 180 degree about turn for Spanish solar energy, and a complete 180 for those who encouraged by government subsidizes invested in it." reports Al Jazeera.

As reported in my post "Spain plans to tax the Sun" earlier this month, Spain has a serious financial problem. It has accumulated a massive debt of more than 26 billion euros to the energy companies, and a new support levy tax is the governments attempt to claw back some of that money.

The move has angered environmentalists and solar energy support groups. The Comisión Nacional de la Energía (CNE) has objected to the plans. BBC News reports "Spain's energy regulator has sided with the opponents of the toll. It has found the proposal discriminatory, concluding that it makes self-consumption economically unviable and sacrifices middle and long-term economic efficiency for short-term economic sustainability. However, the regulator's word is non-binding."

There are hopes that the European Commission will help, as its objective is to achieve 20% of energy production from renewable sources by 2020.

However, the Commission has a dilemma. They are anxious not to jeopardise the plans for Spain's economic recovery. The Commission may be willing to sacrifice the EU legal framework for policy objectives.

It seems almost certain a new Royal Decree will be passed in the Spanish Parliament to tax solar energy.


13 October 2013

The Consumer Unit – the heart of the home

Dual split-loaded CU with Surge Protection Device

BACK IN the day it was called a fusebox. With the introduction of circuit breakers replacing fuses it became known as a consumer unit or CU. The term consumer unit principally applies to domestic premises, and throughout the Costa Blanca dwellings normally have a 230 volt single-phase power supply to theirs.

The consumer unit distributes electricity to appliances and safeguards the system to help prevent electrocution and fire. With the limited power supplies that are available, it is essential that the consumer unit is adequately equipped to deal with overloading and leaking electricity. The consumer unit is the heart of the home, and should be treated as such.

It is usually located near the front door and should consist of two compartments. One compartment is solely for a power control switch (ICP) which is fitted under an authorised seal by Iberdrola. The other larger compartment is for the consumer, and houses the safety devices for subsidiary circuits.

Since 2002 following publication of the latest Spanish electrical regulations, the basic installation for a dwelling requires a consumer unit to have five sub-circuits. Properties built prior to 2002, can have four sub-circuits, or even only two. Very old properties can be found fitted with only a Mains Isolator and a Residual Current Device (RCD) without any sub-circuits.

The basic installation is protected by a single RCD. This can cause secondary safety problems with loss of lighting and defrosting of food if a trip occurs.

Large properties with higher electrical consumption should have consumer units fitted with additional safety devices. Extra protection is needed for a Jacuzzi, swimming pool, tumble dryer, air conditioning and heating systems.

For external electrical fixtures and fittings it is preferable to have them independently controlled in the consumer unit, enabling the sub-circuits to be easily isolated in the event of a fault. This prevents major disruption to the electricity supply inside the property, which can occur during wet weather.

For properties built before 2002 consider replacing the existing consumer unit with a dual split-load consumer unit together with a Surge Protection Device (SPD). By splitting the sub-circuits, electricity will always be present in part of the property if one of the RCDs trips out. An SPD provides protection for the whole house against over-voltage spikes, an occurrence notorious with the Spanish electricity supply.

It’s also a good idea to fit an emergency light fitting with a self contained battery above the consumer unit, especially if it is located in a darkened area. In the event of a power cut the light automatically switches on - so no more fumbling round for a torch in the dark.

02 October 2013

Spain plans to tax the Sun

SPAIN IS a forerunner in the renewable energy industry, but reformed legislation now threatens to curb solar growth putting the small-scale photovoltaic market at risk. New measures could create major headaches for several Spanish banks. Solar energy groups claim that the subsidy reductions could force solar energy companies into default.

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, the Spanish government drastically cut its subsidies for solar power, and now in an unprecedented move wants to make consumers pay for the electricity that they generate and use themselves, a move unheard of in any other country.

The reforms aim to raise money for combating a €26 billion government debt to utility companies which has built up over the years in regulating energy costs and prices. With Spain in economic crisis, power consumption is falling but the energy debt will continue growing by €4-5 billion a year unless the government takes action.

The government announced a new "support levy" on solar power. The solar levy is fixed at 6 cents per kilowatt-hour. Private individuals who fail to hook their solar panels up to the national grid to be metered and taxed could face fines of up to €30 million under the new law.

US business and finance magazine Forbes pulled no punches in an article titled, "Out of ideas and in debt, Spain sets sights on taxing the sun". The article took an incredulous tone and noted: "Spain is now attempting to scale back the use of solar panels – the use of which they have encouraged and subsidized over the last decade – by imposing a tax on those who use the panels."

Inaki Alonso, an architect who specializes in ecological projects, calculated the cost of generating his own power under the new energy law and decided the numbers no longer add up. Two weeks after the government slapped the series of levies on green energy, Alonso hired two workmen to remove the solar panels he had put on his roof only six months earlier.

Neither was it possible to leave the panels on his Madrid home without connecting them to the grid; that would risk an astronomical fine. "The new law makes it unviable to produce my own clean energy," Alonso said.

Moreover, the law does not allow homeowners to sell electricity back to the grid. In 2004 the government removed economic barriers for the connection of renewable energy technologies to the grid for large-scale solar thermal and photovoltaic plants and guaranteed feed-in tariffs. Spain ended up with a huge surplus of electricity whereby the total capacity exceeds peak demand by more than 60 percent, and owing utility companies for decade-long subsidizations for selling electricity at less than cost to its customers.

In the end, Alonso moved his solar panels to a friend's house deep in the Spanish countryside. This was far enough from the nearest mains supply to be exempt from the stipulation that panels must be hitched up to the grid.

28 September 2013

Earthing or RCD - do I need both?

WHY DO I need an RCD if I have a good earth?

Earthing is a method of protection for an electrical system, whilst a RCD is a device that disconnects the electricity supply when there is a fault. The big advantage of using earth over a RCD as the primary means of earth fault protection is that earth is all around us in abundance and it connects everything. Basically we can tap into it anywhere anytime.

In contrast, a RCD is a mechanical device, and like any device it can malfunction. However, a RCD does provide some protection that earth, sometimes, cannot.

RCD protection is not a substitute for an earthing system, however well the system has been installed and maintained. One should not replace the other - they simply complement each other to improve safety.

TT earthing system
Across Spain the protective earth connection in a dwelling is provided by a local connection independent of any earth connection at the generator of the electricity utility company. This is usually achieved by installing a copper earth spike (grounding rod) near the Consumer Unit. This method is technically referred to as a TT earthing system, and whilst other systems use the neutral as a means of earthing, the advantage of a TT system is that it does not carry the risk of a broken neutral. In locations where power is distributed overhead and TT is used, installation earth conductors are not at risk should any overhead distribution conductor be fractured by, say, a fallen tree or branch.

A disadvantage of a TT earthing system is high earth fault loop impedance. Ground conditions can vary, especially during the summer compared to the winter. The resistance of soil can change and when the earth fault loop impedance is too high for a circuit breaker to disconnect the electricity supply quickly in the event of a fault, an RCD is what’s needed. Hence, TT earthing systems require proper RCD protection.

A RCD is not there simply to back up the earthing system - they both have an important job to perform. Earthing provides a direct path for electricity to dissipate into the ground rather than through you, and the RCD provides additional protection to ensure that this happens very quickly before any real danger occurs.

Always use a RCD with a sensitivity of 30 mAmps or greater, which provides protection against serious electric shock. Periodically test it say every 3 months by pushing the test button.

How to test the earth loop impedance on a TT earthing system >>>

22 September 2013

What to do with a nuisance tripping RCD

ONE WAY of dealing with nuisance tripping is to fit an automatic resetting or recloser RCD. This was the subject of my post, The RCD that automatically resets itself.

In the vast majority of cases the fault is downstream, somewhere in the property. Invariably the trips are caused by deteriorating insulation on heater elements in water heaters, cooker elements, electric kettles, tubular heaters, or even the defrost cycle on the fridge. Inevitably the tripping is caused from the ingress of damp or water into the electrical system. Although regarded as a nuisance the fault is with the deteriorated element and not the RCD, replacing the offending element or appliance will resolve the problem. 

Like any mechanical device, a RCD can wear out over a period of time and become weakened. This can result in nuisance tripping, replacing the device can cure the problem.

Across Spain it is common for the whole installation to be on a single RCD. This can cause secondary safety problems with loss of lighting and defrosting of food if a trip occurs. The cause of the nuisance tripping can be due to accumulated or burden currents caused by items with lowered insulation resistance. This may occur due to older equipment or even wiring in buildings where prolonged damp and rain conditions can cause the insulation resistance to lower due to the ingress of moisture. The individual items may each be electrically safe but a large number of small burden currents accumulates and reduces the tripping level. Dividing the circuits and fitting additional RCDs can solve the problem.

Given certain conditions outside the property, upstream faults can cause nuisance tripping. While voltage and current on the earth line is usually fault current from a live wire, this is not always the case, thus there are other situations in which an RCD can nuisance trip. When an installation has two connections to earth, a nearby high current lightning strike will cause a voltage gradient in the soil, presenting the RCD sense mechanism with enough voltage to cause it to trip. If you are experience tripping during lightning storms it is recommended to fit a Surge Protection Device.

If the installations earth rod is placed close to the earth rod of a neighbouring building, a high earth leakage current in the other building can raise the local ground potential and cause a voltage difference across the two earths, again tripping the RCD. 

For upstream faults, due to the logistics involved in tracing the problem, the most practical solution is to fit a recloser RCD.

15 September 2013

More Smart Meter concerns

NEW GENERATION Smart Meters are being fitted to every home in Spain. A Royal Decree has declared all consumers contracted with less than 15 kW must have one by the end of 2018. Traditional electric meters will soon be a thing of past.

A Smart Meter records power consumption and communicates that information to a monitoring station for management and billing purposes. They enable two-way communication between the meter and the central control system. Real-time sensors provide information about power outages and power surges. In addition, their introduction prevents the illegal malpractice of unauthorised upgrades.

A possible consequence for home owners having a Smart Meter fitted is that may endure power cuts. Some consumers tend to illegally upgrade their electricity supplies to gain more power by not obtaining the legal certification necessary to upgrade their electricity contract. An illegal upgrade is one where the ICP (kill switch) has been subject to tampering. It will have been disconnected, by-passed or changed without proper authorisation. This is normally evident by the approved seal being removed or tampered with. In order to upgrade an electricity supply an electrician must be employed to produce a boletin (electrical installation certificate) that ensures the installation is safe and able to handle additional power. 

Smart Meters are fitted with a new tamper proof ICP which automatically disconnects the electricity if the power demand exceeds the amount of the contracted supply. That means, if you switch on too many appliances, you create a power cut. 

Consumers are advised to check that the power capacity contracted from Iberdrola corresponds with the ICP. That means the amount of power that you signed up for with Iberdrola should correspond with the Power Control Switch in the Consumer Unit. This will ensure that there are no foreseeable power cuts once the Smart Meter is fitted. You may not be aware that a previous owner illegally upgraded the power supply.

The contracted power supply is stated on your electricity bill or Iberdrola contract in kilowatts (kW). In the Valencia and Murcia regions, the amount will generally be 3.3kW or 3.45kW, or 5.5kW or 5.75kW. Large homes may have larger amounts. 3.3kW/3.45kW means you should have a 15 Amp ICP, and 5.5kW/5.75kW means you should have a 25 Amp ICP. The ICP can be easily identified in, or next to, the Consumer Unit in a separate box.

07 September 2013

The RCD that automatically resets itself

NUISANCE TRIPPING is one of the most common electrical faults that Sparks has to deal with on a regular basis. Because this type of fault is intermittent it can prove extremely difficult to find unless the fault is present at the time of testing or unless it is visually apparent. Consequently, finding the cause of nuisance tripping can become a major exercise for an electrician to trace.

An RCD (aka Interruptor Diferencial) that annoyingly trips out every now and then with no apparent indication why, is not only frustrating but a major concern when leaving a property unoccupied for any length of time. I have several instances on people returning home to the stench of rotting food where the fridge freezer has defrosted due to the RCD tripping out while they were away because of a temporary fault on their electricity supply.

An RCD monitors your electricity supply 24/7, if the device spots an imbalance or leakage it disconnects the power supply to prevent the risk of electric shock. However inconvenient it may be that your electricity cuts off you should never disconnect or bypass an RCD. It is there to prevent serious electrocution, removing it could prove fatal.

There are several ways on how to approach locating this type of fault depending on the installation, all of which use the process of elimination until the fault is found. Another option is to fit an automatic resetting RCD.

An automatic resetting or restart RCD is an earth leakage protection device that is technically referred to as a “recloser”. The automatic resetting function allows reclosing of the RCD after clearance of the fault and following insulation monitoring. The benefit of insulation monitoring offers maximum continuity of supply. This also provides optimal protection and safety, achieving peace of mind. Some models are fitted with an auxiliary contact that allows an installation to be monitored remotely.

An RCD with an automatic recloser can differentiate between a temporary power fault and a permanent power fault and quickly restore power without human intervention. This helps reduce power outages and improve the reliability of the power supply.

Automatic recloser RCDs are useful for applications that require an essential power supply. They are most commonly used for commercial and industrial applications such as bank cash points, cold storage rooms, telecommunications, street lighting and illuminated traffic signs. However, they can also be useful for home applications such as fish tanks and fridge freezers, as well as for community supplies powering urbanisation lighting and TV-SAT/internet services.

Sparks recommends the RED - Multi 9 automatic recloser for earth leakage protection manufactured by Schneider Electric. Click here for the full technical specification.

02 September 2013

Iberdrola orders one million Smart Meters

IBERDROLA HAS awarded seven companies contracts to supply one million Smart Meters with remote management capabilities to advance its Smart Grid projects in Spain.

This award follows others made by the company in the last two years to roll out new distribution technology. With this new award the accumulated investment reaches €300 million.

The companies chosen by Iberdrola to supply these devices are ZIV, Landis & GYR, Sagemcom, Sogecam, Orbis, Elster and GE.

Having successfully completed the first stage of the STAR project (Spanish acronym for Remote Grid Management and Automation System) in Castellón, where 100,000 meters were changed, Iberdrola has started to extend the roll out to all of the regions where it has an electricity distribution grid. 

In the Basque Country, the company is engaged in with the Basque Government, via the Basque Energy Entity, based in the province of Biscay. This project involves the adaptation of over 1,100 transformer stations and changing of some 230,000 meters. 

Another ambitious project worthy of note is PRICE, in which the company is involved along with other partners. This project will consist of the replacement of some 200,000 meters (100,000 by Iberdrola) and the refurbishment of 1,600 transformer stations in the Henares Corridor in the Madrid region, as well as in Guadalajara. 

Iberdrola is also making progress in transforming and modernising its electricity distribution grid in other regions, such as Extremadura, Castile-La Mancha, Murcia and the Valencia region.

This initiative, which will be completed by the end of 2018, will require an overall investment in Spain of some €2,000 million, which will go towards replacing 10.3 million traditional meters with the new smart devices and towards adapting some 80,000 transformer stations, which will be equipped with remote management, supervision and automation capabilities. 

Some of the main advantages of Smart Grids are the integration of distributed generation, the possibility of rolling out electric vehicles on a mass scale and improved efficiency in electricity consumption. For the consumer, Smart Meters will allow for the remote provision of services, such as real-time meter-readings, processing contract registrations and cancellations, and altering the power capacity under contract. 

The company will also be able to supervise the electricity grid and detect any kind of anomalies, whether the voltage is correct, whether the power is balanced, and whether there are power losses. This information will enable the energy to circulate more efficiently and lead to an improvement in the quality of the electricity supply.

25 August 2013

€12,000 nightmare to reconnect electricity to a repossessed property


HANDS UP if you did not have an electrical survey done before purchasing a property in Spain. Both hands up if your estate agent said “they don’t do surveys in Spain”. Now let’s do the largest ever Mexican Wave seen across the Costa Blanca.

It’s not surprising to find that people are bypassing surveys in the current economic climate in a bid to save money. Some estate agents even discourage the practice fearing surveys may reveal problems that will cause potential buyers to withdraw from sales. 

Here is a tale about what can happen when a small saving results in a nightmare and you ask yourself “was it really worth it?” I received this email asking for some much needed advice for a repossessed property on an urbanisation somewhere in the Valencian region:

“We purchased a repossessed property in January and told we would have to apply to Iberdrola for an electricity supply because the electric meter had been removed. The previous occupants vacated the property some 18 months ago.”

“We contacted a builder who said he would arrange for boletins to get the electric and water put back on for us. The water was no problem. However, it transpires that the builder’s electrician was informed by Iberdrola that we could not be reconnected because to do so would take them over capacity. This is despite being told by the neighbour that there had been a supply to the property previously for several years. Every other property around us has electricity.” 

“The electrician continued negotiating with Iberdrola who have now said they can connect us if the electricity supply comes from "the other side of the property." They want us to pay €12,000 for a 9 metre galvanised pole to be put up and for wiring to be re-routed.”

“Our builder explained that Iberdrola has given our electricity supply away and now they want us to pay for a new supply. We are gutted and came with a very tight budget. We don't seem to be getting anywhere. We have had nothing official from Iberdrola yet.”

A survey is essential for properties purchases in Spain, especially repossessions. It is important to distinguish between an electrical survey and a building survey. A building surveyor will not fully understand how to test and inspect an electrical installation. Just because you may be getting a bargain, don't cut corners on areas such as surveys and searches. Treat the purchase as you would in the UK and make sure it is a bargain, not something you may regret.

04 August 2013

Does your house need rewiring?

THE MOST frequent question I get asked is “how safe are the Spanish electrics in my home?” The short answer is for homes built since 2002, electrical safety is generally satisfactory. For homes built prior to 2002… unfortunately it’s “hit or miss.”

Spanish electrical regulations received a major overhaul in 2002 with specific improvements made to domestic dwellings, particularly to earthing (grounding), circuit layout and socket outlets, notably the standardisation across Spain of the Schuko type.

A periodic Test & Inspection that checks the condition of an electrical installation is recommended every 10 years for a home. However, most people are unaware of this regulation and since it is not a legal requirement it’s not surprising to find that people are bypassing electrical surveys in the current economic climate in a bid to save money.

Moreover a T&I tends to be forced upon people around the 20 year mark. This is because Iberdrola generally insist on a new boletin (electrical installation certificate) for properties over 20 years old. This normally catches out the unsuspecting home buyer or owner attempting to arrange a new electricity contract.

Installations that are over 30 years old will undoubtedly have obsolete socket outlets that are unsafe and not earthed, plus many will have been illegally upgraded over the years. This is probably a good time to start thinking long term and planning for a rewire. With Iberdrola currently replacing all traditional meters with new Smart Meters it’s worth checking that your contracted supply is sufficient for your consumption. The kill switch housed in the Smart Meter will ensure that properties are limited to the contracted supply. Inevitably, illegal upgrades will be downgraded.

If your house is over 40 years old, the chances are that different owners have altered or extended various wiring circuits by trying to adapt your house to modern living. The over use of adapters and extension leads is a sign the system may be overloaded, creating a potential fire hazard. Regardless of whether any electrical work was done by professional electrician or by D.I.Y. owners, it will most certainly not have been done to modern standards.

Houses can often appear to have deceivingly newer electrics because all the light switches, socket outlets and light fittings have been changed. However, a closer examination generally reveals that the actual age of the wiring is 40 years or more old. A professional Test & Inspection is the only way to tell for sure what state the wiring is in and if it needs rewiring.

06 July 2013

Risk of electrocution from unsafe Spanish sockets

THERE ARE a number of specific national practices, habits and traditions associated with electrical wiring in Spain that significantly differ from the UK. These include ring mains, fused plugs and socket outlets.

Ring mains are a wiring technique primarily adopted in the UK and used to a lesser degree in the Republic of Ireland. The only other European country which uses ring mains is Cyprus. The concept has been criticized in a number of ways, these include; fault conditions that are not apparent when in use, complexity of safety tests, balancing requirement, electromagnetic interference, and adequate protection from over-current protection. That’s all highly technical stuff, but these disadvantages could explain the lack of widespread adoption outside the UK. 

French style socket - unsafe!
In Spain, sockets are wired to a Christmas tree type circuit with circuit breaker protection provided according to the current rating of the cable used to wire the sockets. High powered appliances such as washing machines, dish washers and electric ovens are wired separately. Electrical appliances purchased in the UK will work with the Spanish system, though the plugs are different.

The “Schuko” is the adopted standard socket and plug used throughout Spain since 2002. Subsequently, there are several types of obsolete dangerous sockets still in existence in Spanish homes used on a daily basis that are unsafe because they do not provide earth (ground) protection which increases the risk of an electric shock. Older properties can have as many as four different types of obsolete sockets.

obsolete bedside socket - unsafe!
A Schuko plug features two round pins for the live and neutral contacts, plus two flat contact areas on the top and bottom side of the plug for the protective earth. Schuko sockets form a cavity into which the plug is inserted. They can be mated in two ways, therefore live and neutral can arrive on either pin at the appliance making them unpolarized. If there is a need to be sure which side is live, the socket's polarity must be tested. As with most types of European sockets, Schuko can also accept the 2-pin Europlug.

When inserted into the socket, the Schuko plug covers the socket cavity (1) and establishes protective-earth connection through the earth clips (2) before the line and neutral pins (3) establish contact, thereby preventing users from touching connected pins. A pair of non-conductive guiding notches (4) on the left and right side provides extra stability, enabling the safe use of large and heavy plugs (e.g. those with built-in transformers or timers).

Avoid the risk of electrocution - ensure all the sockets in your home are Schuko!

30 June 2013

Can I upgrade?

TO ARRANGE an upgrade for the electricity supply the first step is to carry out a survey of the installation in order to assess the condition of the electrics.

A typical upgrade is an increase in the contracted power supply from 3.3 kW to 5.75 kW. This amount of power is normally sufficient for a 2-3 bedroom property. Additional power may be needed for larger properties, those with heat exchangers for pool heating, and large air conditioning systems.

The survey involves inspecting the installation to assess if it complies which the current edition of the Spanish electrical regulations. This is necessary in order to issue a Boletin (Electrical Installation Certificate). A report is produced for the customer with the details of the work required, if any, along with a quotation.

For properties built since 2002 a Boletin can usually be issued without the need for any improvement work. In cases of older properties some work is required depending on the age of the installation. In either case it is necessary to arrange the Upgrade Assessment Survey.

If you require an upgrade to your electricity supply, email Sparks and we will guide you through the process.

26 June 2013

Do you have a billing issue with Iberdrola?

If you have a billing issue and need assistance with Iberdrola, Sparks can help!

Inevitably, energy consumption and high bills are normally the problem. Email Sparks with an explanation, together with any correspondence received from Iberdrola, plus a copy of the electricity bill.

We are happy to offer free advice by email. However, it may be necessary to visit the property in order to carry out an inspection and have a consultation. We will reply with a recommended course of action. 

If you require us to act on your behalf with Iberdrola, we need the following documentation:
• Copy of your electricity bill (both sides)
• Copy of your NIE certificate (preferable) or Residencia
• Letter of Authorisation

Electronic Billing

To register with the on-line Iberdrola office for electronic billing visit www.iberdrola.es/gestionesonline. Here you can request duplicates of your electricity bills.

Day & Night Energy explained

DAY & NIGHT Energy is similar to Economy 7 in the UK, sometimes referred to as a "White Meter"… In fact, it’s not just similar it's far superior!

Changing contracts from the Iberdrola's Basic Plan to Day & Night Energy is the number one way to save energy and lower your electricity bill in your Spanish home. It offers up to 50% off the standard rate for a unit of electricity for 14 hours per day. 

The cheap rate period during winter time is from 10:00 pm (22:00) to 12:00 noon the following day. During summer time it moves one hour forward from 11:00 pm (23:00) to 1:00 pm (13:00). This is the best period for using your washing machine, iron, water heater, pool pump, etc., since the price of electricity is much cheaper. It’s also a good idea to consider night storage heaters for heating your home during the winter because they take full advantage of the cheap rate.

As a guide for what to expect with Day and Night Energy, using your appliances wisely should see 60 - 70% of your electricity consumed during the cheap rate. This can be checked on the electricity bill under the details of consumption and billing. A useful tool to help you calculate your electricity usage is a Home Energy Monitor.

The more appliances that you can revert to using during the cheap rate period, the more money you will save. 

What Iberdrola don’t explain…

There are two types of Day & Night Energy contracts, the Home Plan and the Time of Day Rates (less than 10 kW). If you don’t stipulate which contract you require, you usually get signed up for the Home Plan. Why? Because an insurance policy is attached to the Home Plan, and someone wants their commission! Although there is a 10% discount scheme attached to the Home Plan, Bright Sparks choose the Time of Day Rates contract which overall works out to be the cheapest.

Email Sparks if you need help to change over to a Day & Night Energy contract with Iberdrola.

25 June 2013

Is your Smart Meter causing power cuts?

ALL ACROSS Spain traditional electric meters are being replaced with Smart Meters. A possible consequence of having a Smart Meter fitted is that you may discover you are not contracted for sufficient electrical power. This is evident when the electricity supply constantly cuts off when using appliances. This is caused by having too many switched on at the same time, and it creates an overload to the system. The overload indicates the amount of electrical power required to work all the appliances is insufficient.

Smart Meters are fitted with a kill switch, aka an ICP, which limits your energy consumption to the amount of power you are contracted for with Iberdrola. The amount of contracted power (potencia contratada) is stipulated on your electricity bill and contract in kilowatts (kW).

It is most probable, and you may have been unaware of this, that before your Smart Meter was fitted you were able to draw more power than you were actually contracted for. During the past your electricity supply was illegally upgraded and not authorised by Iberdrola.

With the installation of a Smart Meter the contracted supply is automatically controlled by the ICP housed in the meter. Whereas before it was fitted you were able to draw sufficient power for your needs, now you have been down-graded back to your contracted supply. This is the reason why you are experiencing power cuts.

The course of action to get sufficient power is to arrange an upgrade to your electricity supply. Contact Sparks and we will guide you through the process.

23 June 2013

Do you have adequate power surge protection?

DO YOU have your computer plugged into a surge protector? Is your air conditioning system protected from power surges? And do you think you have adequate protection during an electrical storm? The reality is that many don't know enough about power surges. What are they? Where do they start? How can I protect against them? And what the heck is a Surge Protection Device?

A power surge is a sudden and unwanted increase in voltage that causes damage or can destroy electrical equipment. They crash hard drives and fry printed circuit boards, components that exist in practically every piece of electrical equipment.

Power surges come in two forms; the first from switching on the electricity supply network by high powered electric motors and transformers. In addition hundreds of transient spikes occur daily from devices in the home. The second is by lightning and electrostatic discharges, more common in rural properties but also known to strike properties on urbanisations.

Each year about 2 million flashes of lightning occur on the Iberian Peninsula. Lightning can strike a building directly, the ground nearby, or even overhead power lines miles away and cause power surges. Mains electric cables, TV/Sat and telephone cables which enter from the outside of a building act as conductors for lightning strikes and can facilitate the way for power surges.

When a power surge strikes it shows no mercy and will strike every plugged in appliance on a search and destroy mission. Protection for the whole house can only be provided by a Surge Protection Device (SPD) connected to the entire electrical installation. This is the only way to safeguard everything in the home.

A SPD works in one of two ways; either by diverting the current generated by the power surge directly to earth, or by disconnecting the mains supply preventing the power surge passing through the equipment. Air conditioning units are very prone to damage from power surges as well as computer equipment and TV's. Most air conditioning and TV satellite installation companies will not guarantee their equipment unless it is protected by a SPD.

RCD does not provide protection against power surges. A multi-outlet power strip fitted with an inbuilt basic surge protector can only provide minimal protection for a limited number of items.

Surge Protection Devices are recommended for properties with sensitive and expensive electrical and electronic equipment. They are also strongly recommended for installations in rural areas supplied with Solar Energy Systems exposed to high risks of lightning. 

Make sure you protect your expensive electronic equipment.

22 June 2013

Worst Electrical Jobs

THE PHOTOS say it all! One of the worst wiring jobs that I have seen during my 12 years on the Costa Blanca.

Fault finding on this air conditioning installation in Res. Costa Flamenca went from bad to worse the more I exposed the wiring behind the pipework. No conduit, taped joints, earth cables used as live and neutrals, all cemented inside a wall then tiled over, and connected into the same circuit as the kitchen sockets.  


17 June 2013

Use A Home Energy Monitor to Calculate your Electricity Use

USING A home energy monitor can save you money on your electricity bill by helping you understand how much energy you are using, how much that energy is costing you, and which appliances use the most energy.

It’s a device that provides real time feedback on electrical use. Not to be confused with Smart Meters, these are portable household devices used for displaying energy usage and cost, as well as CO² emissions.

Used together with on line monitoring software, home electricity information can be viewed in real time on a laptop, tablet or smart phone. Energy monitoring systems can provide an array of historical information for tracking energy consumption. This produces several benefits including viewing how much you have spent on electricity over a specified period and the ability to set a budget on how much you want to spend. 

A home energy monitor is not intended to check the accuracy your electric meter however it is a useful tool if you suspect your meter maybe faulty or if you suspect your electricity supply is being illegally tapped into.

Efergy is a global leader in the manufacturing of energy monitoring systems having sold over 800k energy monitors and 250k energy saving products in over 50 countries. There range of energy monitor products are designed to make it easy for any home or small business owner to quickly and effectively reduce their use of electrical energy.

According to Gavin Munro, Communications Manager at Efergy Technologies, "Spain is one of our biggest markets, people are very aware of power consumption. We have performed surveys and had our products vetted independently, and an accurate figure on how much the user saves is 17%. The units themselves don't save any money, but they encourage behavioural change through awareness. Our customers tend to look at their displays around 5 times a day...it becomes a habit, a bit like checking email! Through this constant monitoring people very quickly figure out their consumption behaviour and where to make positive changes to reduce waste consumption."

In 2009 a European Commission recognised the company for its innovative contribution to a successful domestic energy-saving campaign in Sabadell in northern Spain achieving an average monthly saving in households of 14.3%.

This week sees the launch of the Efergy engage app for iPad allowing remote monitoring. Check out their full range of energy saving products at www.efergy.com

Though ultimately it depends on you actively changing your bad habits, a Home Energy Monitor system provides you with all the tools needed to do just that.

11 June 2013

What is a boletin?

A BOLETIN is an Electrical Installation Certificate for low voltage, or Certificado de Instalación Eléctrica de baja tension, most commonly referred to in Spain simply as a Boletin.

A Boletin is an official document certifying the installation complies with the specifications of the current Spanish electrical regulations. It stipulates the maximum permissible power capacity and ensures the quality and condition of the installation.

A Boletin is required when applying for a new electricity supply, or when applying to upgrade an existing electricity supply. It is also necessary if an existing Boletin is over 20 years old. A Boletin may also be required to arrange a new contract if you have been cut off, if you want to change the tariff, as well as when changing names on the electricity bill.

For properties built since 2002 a Boletin can usually be issued without the need for any improvement work. In cases of older properties some work is required to upgrade the Consumer Unit and the installation. In both cases an Upgrade Assessment Survey should be arranged to inspect the condition of the installation.

Iberdrola has a record of all the installations with Boletins connected to their supply network. The certificate is also registered with the Industria department of the Automonous Community.

Boletins for property purchases

We recommend obtaining a Boletin when purchasing a property. This will ensure there aren’t any problems with billing, reducing the chances of getting cut off. If you have a problem with the incoming supply e.g. a power cut, you will need the Boletin as well as the property to be registered in same name. Our Housebuyers Electrical Survey is specifically designed for property purchases, plus it can help support price negotiations.

Commercial Boletins

An Electrical Project (Proyecto Electrico) is a required for commercial premises. The project is designed and produced by an Electrical Engineer or Architect. An electrical contractor carries out the work according to the technical plans and specifications. The installation is periodically inspected during the work programme by the local authorised Industria agency, OCA. On completion of the project the Boletin can be issued. 

If you need a Boletin email Sparks, and we will guide you through the process.

10 June 2013

ICP - frequently asked questions

What is an ICP?
An ICP is a kill switch for controlling your electricity supply, also known as an Interrupter Control de Potencia or Power Control Switch (PCS). The ICP limits the amount of electricity available to the user from the contracted power supply.

What is my contracted power supply?

This is the electricity tariff that you agreed and signed up for with Iberdrola when you moved into your property. The amount is stated on your electricity bill and contract, usually found next to “Potencia Contratada” stated in kilowatts (kW).

Why must I have an ICP?

Royal Decree 1454/2005 and the order ITC 1559/2010 declared it mandatory that all domestic installations less than 15 kW must have a device for controlling the contracted power. That means an ICP must be fitted.

Where is the ICP?

There are three types of ICP currently in existence. One type is manual, the other two types are automatic, both old and new. The manual ICP(M) is fitted in a dedicated standardised box, next to, or part of, the Consumer Unit alongside the main switch. The old automatic ICP(A) is in the meter cupboard. The old auto-type was discontinued in the mid 90's, but is still present and operational in older properties.

The new third type of ICP is automatic and is incorporated in a Smart Meter. These are gradually becoming operational as Iberdrola replace all the traditional electric meters across Spain. They are expected to be fully functional when finally connected to a Smart Grid.

Do I have access to the ICP?

The ICP(M) can easily be accessed in your Consumer Unit within you home. If it trips out due to an overload, restore the power by switching off a few appliances, then switch the ICP back up and the power will be restored.

The automatic ICP housed in a Smart Meter is not accessible. To reset the power if it cuts off, switch off the main switch in your Consumer Unit for about 10 seconds, then switch it back on and the power will be restored.
When must I fit an ICP?

Iberdrola will notify you by letter if you need to fit an ICP. Iberdola write two letters, the second letter is delivered by recorded delivery and gives 20 days’ notice to comply.

What happens if I don't fit an ICP?

You will be penalised to pay a higher electricity tariff for the contracted power supply. A 3.3 kW contracted supply will be increased to a 10 kW tariff. A 5.5kW contracted supply will be increased to a 20kW tariff. Iberdrola should send you a recorded delivery notice about the penalty. However in some instances the notices have not been received. So keep an eye on your electricity bill for any unexplained increases. The penalty charge will be identified on the bill as “Recargo en Potencia por falta de ICP”

Do I already have an ICP?

Possibly, homes completed since 2002 should have an ICP(M) fitted in the Consumer Unit. An ICP may or may not be fitted in homes built prior to 2002.

What are the implications of having an ICP fitted?

A possible consequence of installing an ICP is that insufficient power maybe contracted. This is evident when several appliances are switched on at the same time and the power overloads the system and the ICP trips out. If you require additional power it will be necessary to upgrade your electricity supply.

What about the ICP in Smart Meters?

Iberdrola is currently undertaking an ambitious programme to replace every traditional electric meter with a Smart Meter by the end of 2018. It is called the STAR Project and will connect everybody to a Smart Grid via their Smart Meter by the end of 2020. An automatic ICP is fitted in the Smart Meter and it supersedes the manual ICP(M) in the Consumer Unit making it redundant, as well as ensuring that illegal upgrades become a thing of the past. 

The new automatic ICPs are becoming operational as Iberdrola replace the traditional electric meters. They are digitally operated and far less tolerant than the manual ICP, so the electricity supply disconnects immediately the contracted supply is exceeded. A possible consequence of having a Smart Meter fitted is that the contracted supply maybe insufficient.

Do I need a boletin once the ICP is fitted?

No, a boletin (electrical installation certificate) is only needed if you are upgrading your electricity supply. Once the ICP is fitted, arrange for Iberdrola to inspect and seal it. The cost is €9.04 plus IVA, charged directly to your electricity bill. However, if the property is more than 20 years, they may ask you to present boletin.

Still unsure whether or not you have an ICP?

Telephone Iberdrola on 902 10 22 10, quote your contract number, and ask if you need to have an ICP fitted, or alternatively take a photo of your Consumer Unit and email Sparks.

How much does it cost to have an ICP fitted?

It depends on the rating of the ICP and your contracted power supply. You'll find this figure stated in kilowatts (kW) on an electricity bill next to “Potencia Contratada”. For a quote contact Sparks.

RCDs explained in plain English

SIMPLY PUT, the RCD is the most important safety device in your Consumer Unit. It prevents serious electrocution and can save lives. It can also provide some protection against electrical fires. Don't ignore the importance of this little baby!

In Spain an RCD is called an Interruptor Diferencial (ID) and is easily identified as the device with a test button marked “T” or “Test”. Back in 1992 in the UK, the 16th edition of the IEE Electrical Regulations changed the name of the long standing Earth Leakage Circuit Breaker (ELCB) to the Residual Current Device (RCD) in an attempt to more suitably describe its function.

The RCD protects all the wiring and connected electrical appliances in a Spanish home. It safe guards against leaking electricity by automatically disconnecting the electricity supply in the event of a fault. The RCD must have a minimum rating of 30 mAmps (that's a very small leakage current), which is marked on the device. In the event of earth leakage rising above 30 mAmps anywhere in the installation, the RCD trips-out and will not allow you to switch it back on until the fault is cleared or isolated. This can be inconvenient and a cause of major irritation but may just have saved a life.

A typical Spanish Consumer Unit with 4 sub-circuits, RCD & mains isolater

An RCD differs from a Circuit Breaker in that it is not a fuse. A Circuit Breaker or fuse protects against overloading and short circuit protection, whilst an RCD protects against earth leakage. To have one device that protects against all three faults is very expensive, so it’s more practical to have separate devices.

RCDs are very sensitive and they sit nice ´n quiet in your Consumer Unit (that's a Fusebox in old money) and constantly monitor your electricity supply. When it detects a leak of electricity, normally caused by damp or water ingress, running down an unintended path it disconnects the electricity supply very quickly, significantly reducing the risk of death or serious injury. It prevents conductive fixtures in the home, e.g. metal appliances, stainless steel draining boards, shower heads, copper pipework, etc. from becoming live.

Property owners should regularly test the RCD (or RCDs) every 3 months. If your RCD does not switch off the electricity supply when the test button is pressed, or if it does not reset, contact Sparks.

Every 10 years an electrician should be employed to check RCDs with specialist test equipment to ensure they trip out within 200 milli-seconds.