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Akins: Smart power grid key to industry security

by on January 28, 2014

Nick Akins, AEP chairman, president and chief executive officer, discussed leadership traits, the challenges of power delivery in extreme weather conditions and cybersecurity investments needed for the future of the industry Jan. 23 on Bloomberg Television’s “In The Loop” with Betty Liu.

AEP CEO Nick Akins (right) is interviewed by “In The Loop” moderator Betty Liu during a Bloomberg TV segment Jan. 23.

Prior to addressing industry issues, Liu asked Akins what it takes to become a leader in the electric utility industry.

“I think it’s all about preparation, opportunity, motivation and passion,” Akins answered. “I think one of the big issues is treating people with dignity and respect all along the way. It’s important to have that passion in what you’re trying to achieve, be happy with what you’re doing and certainly be well-balanced in your approach.”

Liu noted that Akins has spent his entire electric utility career with one company (first with Central and South West and then AEP), and asked him if those days are over for aspiring young managers.

“No, I don’t think they’re over,” he answered. “If there are opportunities that become available, you can expand and enlighten yourself from other perspectives. I’ve moved several times and I’ve done several jobs within the same company. As long as you have that motivation and you’re able to grow as an employee and as a human being, it’s a great thing, and it will continue to happen.”

When asked about operating a safe and efficient electric utility system through extreme weather conditions, Akins said, “We’ve done pretty well. Obviously there’s a stress on the system at this point in time, but we’re managing through it, and I think the system has held together in a very positive fashion.

“Although, there are some things to learn from it,” he added. “Natural gas gets frozen up at times and you can’t deliver where you should, so it really does bring up a lot of questions in terms of grid resiliency. Post Superstorm Sandy, that’s a big issue in our industry.

“We’re in a transformational stage in this industry,” Akins continued. “We’re trying to find what the utility of the future looks like. When you think about grid resiliency, cybersecurity and other technological changes like distributed generation, we really have to think about how we invest our capital and how we really focus on this business going forward.”

Turning specifically to the issue of cybersecurity, Akins noted that the threats are real and continuous, and utilities like AEP must remain vigilant to guard against catastrophic events affecting the grid.

“Just three years ago, we had hardly any cybersecurity effort going on. Today, an entire floor of our corporate center is focused on cybersecurity,” he said. “So it really is a focus with the federal government to make sure we understand the threats that can occur and make sure our system is resilient enough to not only respond to those threats but also to recover afterward if we need to, and that really plays into the smart grid activity and the grid resiliency activity so we can make sure our system is secure.”

In that three-year period, Akins warned that the cyber threats have become “more defined and more persistent,” and that the industry also seems to be a step behind the hackers.

“We have to be vigilant. We’re always trying to catch up in this business from a cybersecurity standpoint but we have to be prepared,” Akins concluded. “The government and the industry have been working together and even conducting drills to make sure we are doing the right thing to keep the grid sound.”

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