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.