Emeka Okafor has 14 years of experience in the utility industry, including stints with Indiana Michigan Power (a sister company to AEP) and Duke Energy. He returned to AEP Ohio in 2019 to lead our engineering department.
In honor of National Engineers Week we talked with Okafor about engineering at AEP Ohio and the future of his profession.
We have all different kinds of engineers at AEP Ohio. How would you describe the role of an engineer?
We’re problem solvers. Our job is to identify the barriers to reliable electrical service for our customers and develop the plans to solve these challenges. It’s a very satisfying role.
Why are engineers so important for keeping the lights on?
We’re part of a larger team. Engineers develop the projects that get designed by our designers and built by our lineworkers. In a year like 2020, when we achieved our best reliability metrics in almost a decade, our engineers played a vital role in that accomplishment. The engineers brainstorm potential solutions and perform the cost and risk-benefit analysis of the projects that help improve AEP Ohio’s reliability and the customer experience.
How has AEP Ohio engineering changed in the past 10 years and what’s coming next?
The biggest change has been the deployment of new technology. The old industry saying is that if Thomas Edison were to come back and see the electrical grid he would think nothing had changed. But that’s not the case anymore. With the deployment of grid automation and other new technology, it’s gone from replacing equipment in kind to installing a new electric grid with interconnected parts that talk to each other. This will minimize outage times because we’ll be able to more quickly respond to outages and have a more resilient grid. We’ll be able to more quickly restore power rather than having to always wait for humans to do it.
What’s something customers may not know about our engineers but should?
It’s true we spend a lot of time focused on white boards and playing with numbers. But our engineers have a great sense of humor and are fun to be around.
We have engineers who’ve worked at AEP Ohio for decades. You left but came back. Why?
The culture at AEP was a big reason. I knew the kind of leaders I’d be working for where solutions are grass-roots driven. We have an opportunity to be creative and innovative when it comes to finding solutions.
Why do you love being an engineer?
Solving problems and helping people! When I think about being a part of providing such an essential service that powers a brighter future for our customers and communities, I feel energized and rewarded.
Any advice for aspiring engineers?
There are lots of exciting things going on in our industry. From the deployment of new technology to participating in climate change discussions, there are many opportunities for engineers in the utility industry. The added bonus is you can truly change the world while doing it.