Q&A with Zach Gaeddert

July 27, 2021

DG+Design is excited to welcome Zach Gaeddert to the team as Associate, Clean Energy! Zach is currently spending his summer at DG+ while between semesters at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA). He is a skilled policy analyst and data scientist with a passion for sustainable technology. Prior to joining DG+,  Zach worked with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the Earth Institute's National Center for Disaster Preparedness, and Vivid Economics.

Julianne Waite recently interviewed Zach to learn more about him. Check out his answers below.


Where does your passion for clean energy come from?

There is a bit of a story here, but the short version is I accidentally started working in the field and I just fell in love with it; the more I work and study it, the more I like it.

Here’s the longer version: I studied politics and language as an undergraduate, and while I have been long aware of the impacts of climate change, I had never really considered it as a career choice. In 2018, I was planning to start a masters program in part because I still wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do professionally, but then I ran into a friend who told me that her employer was looking for help over the summer. I didn’t really know what the position entailed, but it sounded interesting so I decided to interview for it and was accepted. It turned out to be a consulting firm with an emphasis on energy and decarbonization, and I loved working there.

A week before I was supposed to wrap up my summer job with them, they offered me a full-time position, so I put my masters plan on hold and accepted the position. I worked there for two years at which point I realized I wanted a deeper, more well-rounded educational background in the field of energy, the environment, and climate change. That is how I wound up in Columbia’s SIPA master degree program.

Why did you join DG+?

There are kind of two answers to this question; one is Faiza and the other is David.

I met Faiza when we were working in our capstone (professional group consulting project as part of our degree) together. I was still considering what I wanted to do over the summer. I had been working part-time for about a year at NYSERDA and wasn’t sure I wanted to work over the summer as well. But Faiza told me more about the work she was doing at DG+ and I was extremely interested since I had never worked in solar PV or battery storage, and was excited about the idea of gaining experience in new areas of the energy sector.

I then spoke to David and he told me more about the work DG+ was doing with distributed solar market analysis. He specifically mentioned that he wanted me to do some data manipulation and presentation, a skill that I had been developing during my master degree, and I was eager to further use it in a real-world professional setting. Basically, the role ended up being exactly what I was looking for, so I joined the DG+ team.

What do you hope to accomplish or learn?

I have been with DG+ for about a month and I’ve already learned a lot in coding and front-end  development for presentations. But I think the main thing I want to achieve is to help put out a work product that has a tangible impact for companies working to decarbonize the US economy. I want to help create something that DG+ clients want and help grow the DG+ reputation in the clean energy space at the same time.  

How do you hope to have an impact at DG+?

There are two sides to this for me. The first is the commercial side, where I can help create value for clients and improve their day-to-day operations. I want our analytical work to create even greater demand for our products and help build the DG+ reputation.

The other side is social impact. I want my work to help meet the 2 degree goal; I want to work toward changing the way we use energy in the US and abroad to avoid the potentially devastating effects of climate change.

What are some of your favorite places for inspiration?

I am a huge extrovert, so my family, my girlfriend, and my friends are some of my main sources of inspiration. A lot of them share my passions and are interested in discussing issues beyond climate change like social issues. I love telling them about what I’m working on and learning what they are doing, too. We love brainstorming together – sometimes a fresh perspective on an issue into which you’ve buried your head for hundreds of hours is just what you need!

In addition to my family and friends, I absolutely love traveling. It is probably what I look forward to the most in my life aside from all of the obvious milestones. Right now I am living in Europe and have the tremendous privilege of being able to use budget airlines to easily travel to a number of different cities and suddenly be in a culture or setting that is different from my own.

What is the coolest energy infrastructure you’ve seen? Why?

I’m going to give you two.

The first is actually what I wrote my Columbia essay about. My mother grew up in Saudi Arabia and a few years ago when we were visiting, we checked out an Aramco facility that was using a district cooling system. At the time, I was actually doing a report on the benefits of district energy systems, so to see one in action was incredible for me. I remember talking my dad’s ear off about how it works and why it was so cool. He politely listened, but it was clearly more exciting for me than it was for him.

The second is more recent. A few weekends ago, my girlfriend and I took the train to Margate for a day trip from London. While hiking along the cliffs out there, we could see the Thanet Wind Farm, which is the largest offshore wind farm in the world. That was pretty impressive.

Where are your dream travel destinations?

It has to be Iran. I studied Farsi as part of my undergraduate degree, and I’ve tried to go to Iran a number of times over the past 10 years, but it hasn’t worked out yet. My visa kept getting rejected and then the one time it wasn’t rejected, I had already purchased a flight somewhere else and couldn’t afford another flight. Hopefully one day they will let me in!

Tell us something maybe unexpected about yourself?

I once spent a night in a “jail cell” (it was actually pretty nice) in Moldova. I didn’t really do anything wrong, but I could have avoided this mishap if I did a bit more research.

During a summer internship at an NGO in Kyiv, Ukraine, I had a week off and took the time to travel all over Ukraine and Moldova. I entered Moldova through this breakaway region called “Transnistria” that doesn’t consider itself to be part of Moldova, so I didn’t get a Moldova passport stamp. I then took a bus from Transnistria into Moldova proper, and they didn’t give me a passport stamp for Moldova either, since they consider Transnistria to already be part of Moldova. When I tried to leave Moldova, the border guards noticed that I didn’t have a passport stamp. I was trying to explain to them why I didn’t have one but the train left before we were able to clear things up. Because there wasn’t another train until the next morning, I had to spend the night in the border facility. Apparently this happens all the time, and everyone was really nice and kept checking on me. They gave me food (and vodka), but the cell didn’t have a bed. It wasn’t too bad of an experience since they understood my situation and I was free to go in the morning (with a somewhat hefty fine).


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