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My dad tells me that the (recently remodeled) house he's staying in in Valencia shuts off the electrical service if he's using the cooktop and the heater at the same time. This is very unusual in terms of what I'm familiar with. Is there anyone who can say whether this is a policy issue or a wiring issue. He says it seems to be a state mandated cap on usage, but I'm skeptical.

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I'm from Spain, and yes, your father is right there is a cap in terms of contracted power with the electrical company. In the contract you sign with the electrical company it's stated the maximum power you need (at the same time). For example, in my case I've a maximum contracted power of 5.75KW (with this power, I've never had problems having at the same time running the AC, the oven, the fridge, a computer, some lights, and the water heater). And to my knowledge, particulars (that's not companies) can contract a power up to 9.7KW.

So the bill depends on two factors, the amount of energy you've been using during a period of time (variable), and the maximum energy you've contracted (fixed amount). An easy way to slightly reduce the bill is contracting a lower maximum energy, but in that case you may face power cuts if you surpass this maximum in a given moment. If that's your father problem, he should call his power supplier and ask them to increase the maximum energy (they usually charge for this kind of changes, and moreover the bill will be proportionally higher). He can know this maximum looking at a bill (looking at "Potencia").

But it's strange what happens to you father, mainly taking in mind that it's a new house. New houses projects usually include a study of average electrical power needs, so that you contract the power according to the study to avoid cuts. So I'd not discard an internal wiring problem.

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What is the mechanism that trips when maximum usage is exceeded? Now I'm just curious. Is it like a circuit breaker at the mains? –  Paul Jan 7 '13 at 12:29
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Yes, kinda, it's a power control switch which is connected to the counter (ICP, Interruptor de Control de Potencia), but I don't know its inner details. Since 2005 its use is mandatory and regulated by law (RD 1454/2005). But those "old" counters will be replaced soon by smart counters which will notify automatically all the issues and usage to the provider. –  Antoni Sanchez Magraner Jan 7 '13 at 13:22
    
I had no idea such electric contracts existed seems like a good way to destroy expensive electronics. –  stoj Jan 8 '13 at 0:35
    
Yeah, it helps to promote low power consumption appliances, and people makes a more carefully use of electricity. But on the other hand, it's one more excuse to charge the consumers. –  Antoni Sanchez Magraner Jan 8 '13 at 7:35
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It sounds like a circuit breaker is going off when it's overloaded.

I can't speak for Spain but here in Australia, some older houses have poorly designed electical wiring. I've lived in houses where you couldn't run 2 heaters at the same time because the power would go off.

If the house has recently been remodeled, maybe a heater was installed and the electrian tested the heater and it worked, but the heater wasn't tested with the cooktop running.

Maybe that's it.

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