Ph.D. Student Chooses Portugal to Study Renewable Energy Policies

Ivonne Pena Cabra 2010 2011 Ivonne Peña is a dual degree Ph.D. student of Engineering and Public Policy (EPP) since 2010/2011. As part of her Ph.D., Ivonne Peña is investigating the impact of policies, grid connection rights and the goals of countries in terms of a widespread use of renewable energies in the European Union, using Portugal as a case study.


Ivonne Peña-Cabra aims at determining the economic and technical implications of reducing obstacles to connections to new wind parks in Portugal, in order to help achieve the Horizon 2020 goals in a more cost-effective way. In order to accomplish her mission, the researcher is studying the public tenders devised to award connection rights to wind power projects that resulted in today's distribution of wind parks across Portugal. This was the subject of a poster titled "Wind Parks in Portugal: Did Public Tenders Produce Poor Locations?," presented last January at the Inaugural Symposium of the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program, in Portugal.

The choice of selecting Portugal to be the case study is associated with the percentage of wind power produced in the country, the second largest in the world. In 2012, 20 percent of electricity in Portugal was produced by wind parks. “My research took this direction because I was exposed to the country's information and to the Portuguese reality,” she explained.

For her research, Ivonne Peña is using data from the Entidade Reguladora dos Serviços Energéticos (ERSE), investment data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), and connection costs found in the literature. So far, the student has found some preliminary results, which relate the capacity factor to the connection costs of wind generation. She confirmed, for instance, that wind power generation costs decreased as the capacity factor increased, and that the costs increased as the connection costs increased as well.

“Imagine a stakeholder who wants to build a wind park. That stakeholder will try to build the wind park in an area with the best wind resource (reflected in a high capacity factor) because that will lead to higher profits. Now, if that location requires a high connection cost (for example, building a long distribution line, or using a large transformer), the stakeholder will probably re-evaluate if it is better to build the wind park in another location, with a lower capacity factor but requiring lower connection costs,” Ivonne Peña explained. “In other words, the stakeholder's goal is to minimize the wind power generation costs,” she added.

In the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program, the dual degree doctoral student is supervised by the Portuguese researcher Marcelino Ferreira, at the Instituto Superior Técnico of the Universidade Técnica de Lisboa (IST/UTL), and by Inês Lima Azevedo at CMU. According to the student, the experience of having two advisors from different institutions is challenging. “I believe that adapting to both environments puts you in a position where you always bring new things to the table, and where you always learn from your 'new' peers,” she said, adding that it is essential to prioritize the communication with the advisors in order not to lose focus. “My personal assessment is that this is a unique experience, one that I have enjoyed very much, from which I have learned and grown as a professional and as a person, and for that I am very grateful,” she highlighted.

In the future, Ivonne Penã will continue to put energy policies at the top of her concerns. She envisions herself as an energy policy analyst working for an international or government agency with operations in developing regions. “I want to apply my knowledge to regions that face budget constraints and need other finance mechanisms to promote renewable energy,” she said. “I want to help build the framework of energy policies that comprise both objectives [reducing CO2 emissions and increasing access to electricity services] in my country (Colombia) or anywhere else where this framework is needed,” she concluded.

Ivonne Peña was recently awarded one of five available scholarships to participate in the Summer Academy on Sustainable Energy Finance, held July 14-19th, 2013, by the Frankfurt Finance School and the UNEP Collaborating Centre for Climate and Sustainable Energy Finance. This is a highly competitive program, directed towards professionals and experts from different disciplines that work on areas related with financing climate change solutions. Read the article at .

June 2013