Edwin Niederberger on Energy, Business and Development

IDS Student Edwin Edwin Niederberger

IDS Student Edwin Niederberger

Hi Edwin, tell us about yourself. Who are you? Where are you from? And what brought you to the Elliott School?  I always have trouble answering these questions concisely, especially where am I from. The short answer is Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was born in the US, but spent a good portion of my childhood growing up in Russia. Even after I moved back to the US, I spent summers in St. Petersburg, Russia at my grandparents’ home. I graduated in 2012 from the University of Pittsburgh with a BA in economics. Following graduation, I did a two week program on energy issues in Baku, Azerbaijan, which sparked my interest in energy as both a geopolitical and a development issue. I decided to pursue a career in development after interning for six months with the UN System Staff College (UNSSC) in Torino, Italy, which is the UN agency responsible for improving the capabilities and skills of UN employees by facilitating workshops and training programs. I worked with the Gender and Cross Cultural Team, which furthered my interested in gender issues in development. Recognizing that I needed to pursue a MA to work in development, I applied to various graduate development programs, but chose the Elliott School because of its global reputation but also its location just blocks away from the IMF, World Bank, Red Cross, and other important development organizations.

Edwin with Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet

Edwin with Chilean President, Michelle Bachelet

What is your area of specialization within the IDS program? My concentration is Energy, Natural Resource Management, and the Environment. On a macro scale, I am interested in how developing countries can use policy and development strategies to best diversify their own energy supply and avoid falling into the resource curse. On a micro scale, I am focusing on energy access and how to enable people that live in rural areas to have sufficient and reliable access to energy (electricity in particular) in order to enable development opportunities.

You have decided to get a joint MA/MBA, why did you choose to go the dual degree route? What are your plans after grad school and how will this help you get there?   I chose the MA/MBA route because I am most interested in the role of the private sector in development. I believe that the GW Business School will help me look at development issues from the private sector’s perspective and understand some of the barriers and constraints that private companies face. For example, as I mentioned earlier, energy access is a major issue in development as 1.3 billion people lack access to reliable electricity. Many of these people are willing to pay high amounts to have access to electricity, but may not be aware of their options or live too far away from the electrical grid. At the same time, there are plenty of companies that are making PV solar panels that would be perfect for the conditions many of these people live in (plenty of daily sunlight). Thus the responsibility of providing electricity access falls upon the private sector. However, there is a major disconnect in the supply chain linking the high supply and high demand for these energy products. One of the issues is economies of scale, where if only a few solar panels are produced, they will cost much more for the producer to make, thus making these panels more expensive for local distributors in the rural areas and finally to the consumer. It is imperative to think of innovative ways to make loans and finance capital for each step in the process to reduce costs for production, holding inventory, and final price.

Edwin nearing the finish line at his first marathon.

Edwin in Venice.

After grad school I want to continue working on energy and environment issues in developing countries. At this point, potential options include working for the Global Environment Facility sector of the World Bank that provides funding for many energy and environment initiatives in developing countries. I also would be interested in working for or starting my own Energy Service Company (ESCO). ESCOs focus on making buildings more energy efficient and reducing energy costs and environmental pollution through mitigating emissions. These include simple solutions like using more efficient light bulbs or smart building design that take advantage of natural light to more complex solutions where buildings can have green roofs or solar panels (or other technologies) to generate their own energy and even be able to sell some back to the grid!


Edwin nearing the finish line at his first marathon.

Both of your parents worked in development. How has that influenced your career path? What made you want to follow in their footsteps? Yes, both my parents worked in development, my mom for IFC and my dad as an environmental consultant. This definitely shaped my world perspective from an early age. As a child, I was fortunate to travel a lot, meet and become friends with people from many different cultures, and understand that not everyone had a lifestyle like I did in the US. When I was very young, I loved the idea that my parents just traveled the world and saw all of these cool places, but as I grew older I began to understand the intricacies and complexities of the actual work they were doing.

A photo from Edwin's time in Nepal.

A photo from Edwin’s time in Nepal.

While in college, I traveled to Nepal to visit my mom and worked as an intern at a micro finance organization as well as volunteering at an educational center for blind or deaf children. I think this experience really cemented my desire to work in development as it was the first time I really understood the difficulties and extreme poverty so many people live in. I think that my parents have also really shaped my interests. My dad focuses on environmental issues and mitigating environmental damage in developing countries, while my mom focuses on development projects that are financed through the private sector. They both have been invaluable resources for my own professional development as I often turn to them if I have any questions or even to have a discussion on contemporary topics.