Interview with Rita Hogan, post-doctoral researcher at the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.

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Hello Rita, welcome to this interview within the SolaQua Project. I would like to start by asking you to please introduce yourself.

My name is Rita Hogan Teves de Almeida and I am currently a post-doctoral researcher in the Photovoltaic Systems Group of the Solar Energy Institute of the Polytechnic University of Madrid, and Assistant Professor Doctor in the Department of Telematics and Electronic Engineering of the School of Engineering and Telecommunication Systems of the same University.

I was born in Lisbon, in Portugal, and came to Spain, in 2016, to continue my PhD studies. I obtained my PhD in the scope of an international co-tutelage agreement between the Polytechnic University of Madrid (PhD in Systems Engineering and Services for the Information Society by ETSIST) and the University of Lisbon (PhD in Sustainable Energy Systems by Faculdade de Ciências). I developed my PhD in the scope of the European project MASLOWATEN, which consisted in the design and development of solutions for high power photovoltaic (PV) irrigation, its application to 5 full-scale demonstrators installed on farms of agribusinesses, individual farmers and cooperatives and, finally, its insertion in the market.

Currently, I am still developing my research activity in the same field, that is, mainly in high power PV irrigation applications.

Right now you are working at the Solar Energy Institute of the UPM as a researcher specialized in photovoltaic systems. I understand that in this world of research there are more and more women, although in general their number continues to be a minority. Could you tell me a little about your experience?

Indeed, there are few women doing research in solar energy and even fewer in the world of agriculture.

In any case, at least in my environment, the panorama seems to be changing in recent years. When I did my bachelor’s and master’s degree in Energy and Environmental Engineering in Portugal in my class, the ratio was 50/50. In the research groups in which I developed my PhD, first in Portugal and then in Spain, there have always been (and still are) fewer women than men, although our participation is increasing.

I believe that small gestures and interviews like these can help girls and young women to have a growing interest in scientific careers and research.

Let’s talk a bit about solar energy. If I’m not mistaken, for years now at the Solar Energy Institute you have been participating in European projects, such as SolaQua. Tell me about your experience.

I have been doing research in the Photovoltaic Systems Group at the Solar Energy Institute since January 2016. When I arrived I started working on the MASLOWATEN project. With MASLOWATEN, in addition to the above, the problems associated with PV power variability without the use of batteries were solved, and the integration of solar PV into the pre-existing irrigation system was ensured through innovative designs that maximized PV utilization.

After MASLOWATEN, I had the opportunity to participate in another European project called GRECO. It was a citizen science project, in which one of the lines of research dealt with photovoltaic irrigation systems. This part of the project was led by the Euro-Mediterranean Irrigation Community and the first activity of the project was the definition of one of three possible lines of research: 1) Batteries to avoid intermittency in the solar power produced by cloud passes; 2) Extend the power of photovoltaic pumping to systems with motor pumps of more than 400 volts; 3) Study the possibility of solar pumping to desalinate brackish water from wells and aquifers. An Open Innovation mechanism was used to analyze the needs of irrigators and public agencies responsible for irrigation water management. Thus, it was these stakeholders who defined that the research and developments would focus on the second option, which led to the development of a solution tailored to the needs of farmers.

I am currently still actively involved in two other projects with European funding: SOLAQUA (whose main objective is to facilitate the implementation of irrigation with solar energy) and CO2-FRAMED (which provides for the installation of 7.35 MWp photovoltaic in the Ebro basin). In these projects, farmers will not have to make the initial investment in the photovoltaic installation, as the business model will be long-term PPA contracts (power purchase agreements). In this way, farmers will have a competitive and stable price, without being exposed to the fluctuations of the energy market.

Finally, I would like to know what are your latest lines of research.

My research group is a group that works on photovoltaic systems. Therefore, in addition to research on irrigation systems we also work on other types of systems: for example, on large grid-connected photovoltaic power plants, on PV systems for cold generation, on rural electrification or on energy communities.
Currently, in addition to the two European high-power PV irrigation projects, we are working on two other European projects for energy communities, in addition to various national and international competitive projects or with private companies.

Something that seems to me very relevant in our group is one of its pillars: reality. We always work on problems of reality, on problems that come to us from the different actors of civil society. Therefore, in the area of photovoltaic irrigation and the water-energy nexus, in the near future, we want to start working on photovoltaic desalination (with the aim of having irrigation solutions that do not depend on fresh water).

Thank you very much Rita.

To you 😊

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