News: A Leadership Perspective on the Reliability, Security, and Resilience of America’s Energy Grid

Tom Fanning

Posted March 12, 2018

On February 14th, the Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy hosted Tom Fanning, CEO of Southern Company. Tom joined a course out of the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs entitled “Networks, Infrastructures, & Security,” which is part of a broader effort out of the Nunn School focusing on the subject of the well-being of the nation’s critical infrastructure.

Tom, a graduate of Georgia Tech, focused his discussion on the resilience of the United State’s energy grid. In particular, Tom used his experience with Southern Company and his advisory role to government agencies to highlight some of the pressing challenges the U.S energy grid faces. Arguably, the most pressing of these challenges is the coordination between private U.S energy enterprises and the federal government. 87% of critical infrastructure, including the energy grid, in the United States is owned by private industry. Therefore, it is imperative that the federal government listens to the private industries needs and concerns. This is done through the Sector Coordinating Council (SCC). Tom illustrated the vital importance of the communication platform, as entities such as the Southern Company often know their vulnerabilities and threats better than the federal government.  The 16 sectors of the SCC, as designated by Homeland Security, also participate in war gaming scenarios to better the security and resilience of these critical infrastructures.

The resilience of the energy grid is not just important for security, however. Sustainable energy sources and business practices also greatly enhance the overall resilience of United States energy grids. Southern Company has addressed this through transitioning from 70% reliance on coal to 28% in recent years. Additionally, Southern Company has invested in wind, solar, and natural gas as diversifying and sustainable energy sources. More diversified energy sources, coupled with stockpiling of vital replacement hardware (EMS systems etc), allow for a more resilient energy grid in the face of terror or cyber attacks. Given the importance of reliable energy to the United States population, Tom stressed the importance of both the federal government and the private industry coordinating their work towards greater energy resilience. Given the success of the SCC and private initiatives the Southern Company and others have taken, there is a great resilience as the situation sits today.

Thomas A. (Tom) Fanning is chairman, president and chief executive officer of Southern Company, America’s premier energy company. Elected by the board of directors in July 2010, he became president of Southern Company in August 2010, and assumed the additional responsibilities of chairman and CEO in December 2010. Fanning serves on the board of directors of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta and serves as chair of the Conference of Chairs of the Federal Reserve Banks. He is on the advisory board of the Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business, the board of trustees of the Georgia Tech Foundation, the board of directors of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations and the regional governing board of the World Association of Nuclear Operators’ Atlanta Centre. Fanning earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in industrial management and also was awarded an honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree from Georgia Tech. His executive education includes programs at the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland, Harvard Business School and the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.

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