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.

02 June 2013

Smart Meters - coming soon to a meter cupboard near you

THE TRADITIONAL electric meter will soon be a thing of past as they are replaced with Smart Meters. Royal Decree 1634/2006 established a meter substitution plan for all consumers contracted with less than 15 kW by the end of 2018.

Spain is a country with 46 million inhabitants and approximately 26 million electricity customers. Three major energy players act in the country, Endesa, Gas Natural Fenosa, and Iberdrola, with a market share of almost 95%.

For Iberdrola customers, it’s all part of something called the STAR Project, a state-of-the-art remote grid and management distribution system. They intend to replace 10.3 million traditional meters with Smart Meters within the next five years. The project requires a total investment of some €2 billion and involves 80,000 transformer stations being adapted with remote management and monitoring capabilities.

An electric Smart Meter is one that records power consumption and communicates that information to a monitoring station for management and billing purposes. Smart Meters enable two-way communication between the meter and the central control system. Real-time sensors provide information about power outages and power surges.

Many confuse Smart Meters with home energy monitors. The roll-out of Smart Meters is one strategy for energy saving. While electricity supply companies can save millions a year from their introduction, consumer benefits will depend on people actively changing their energy use. For example, using time-of-day tariffs that offer lower rates at off-peak times, and selling electricity back to the grid.

Utility companies propose that from a consumer perspective, smart metering offers a number of potential benefits to householders. These include, a) an end to estimated bills, which are a major source of complaints for many customers, b) a tool to help consumers better manage their energy use - stating that Smart Meters with a display outside their homes could provide up-to-date information on electricity consumption and in doing so help people to manage their energy use and reduce their energy bills and carbon emissions.

Some groups have expressed concerns regarding the cost, health, fire risk, security and privacy effects of Smart Meters and the remote controllable "kill switch" that is included with them. People living near Smart Meters have been reported to have “suffered headaches, body aches… flu-like symptoms” from the electric and magnetic fields that are emitted from the device. In the United States some meter installers have been prevented at gun point from replacing the meters.

Iberdrola has Smart Grid projects underway in the Valencia Autonomous Region, the Basque Country and Murcia.