Renewable Energy Comes of Age
Renewable energy can no longer be called alternative energy, now that wind and solar electricity are providing large percentages of total power in several North American wholesale markets.
As a result, underwriters and brokers who serve green power producers have enjoyed growth, but have also been vexed by what can best be described as the challenges of an adolescent industry.
For example, when wind farms and solar arrays first began to grow in the middle 2000s, carriers made their best guesses in underwriting because there was a lack of historical loss and performance data.
Going on a decade later, there is plentiful data, but prevailing softness in the market limits what underwriters can do with it.
“The early wind farms in particular are going on eight years old, and we are starting to see failures beyond what was anticipated,” said Geraldine Kerrigan, managing director at Beecher Carlson.
The frustration, she said, is “there is a now a rich volume of loss data, but because there is so much [underwriting] capacity the market is very soft. Carriers’ hands are tied in underwriting trying to tighten terms and conditions. It is probably one of the few industries where you just can’t use trend data.”
After a shotgun start in the previous decade with many operators and investors trying a variety of generating options, some clear business models have emerged. This has also proved to be a mixed blessing for insurers.
Drivers of Solar Power
“Solar is more attractive to investors because that usually involves multiple smaller sites,” Kerrigan said. “That presents more of a challenge for underwriters. It is more of an administrative burden and a lower profitability profile from an insurance perspective.”
One important driver of growth in solar has been the rise of aggregators. Those companies will tie together several developments, their own or others’, and secure a single power-purchase agreement (PPA) from a utility.
That fosters the development of solar power as a viable commercial operation, but vastly complicates insurance and risk management, especially when the aggregator may lease actual assets or just space on a roof.
Similarly, insurers underwriting wind energy are grappling with higher-than-anticipated losses in equipment. They are also having to get vertical in a hurry as first-generation battery arrays are now being designed into second-generation wind farms, and being retrofitted into first-generation wind farms.
“Solar is more attractive to investors because that usually involves multiple smaller sites.” — Geraldine Kerrigan, managing director, Beecher Carlson.
“Lithium battery technology has reached the point that it is viable [commercially and operationally] to be a benefit to wind generation,” said Kerrigan. “Carriers are writing the new batteries, but they are not entirely happy about it.”
In effect, they are back to square one having to make underwriting decisions with little performance, loss or operations history.
Renewable Energy Surging
Despite the growing pains, renewable energy is now off the porch and running with the big dogs. In September, the Sabine Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University in New York held a seminar on energy markets including coal, natural gas and renewables with a focus on regulation, and global supply and demand.
At that seminar, Anthony Yuen, director of global energy strategies at Citi Research, presented findings that renewables have grown from about 40 gigawatts in 2001 to about 75 GW today, and are expected to pass nuclear power — flat at about 100 GW — in about 2025.
Meanwhile, coal has fallen from about 230 GW in 2001 to 150 GW today. Citi’s projections show renewables catching a falling coal at about 120 GM by 2030 (see chart).
“The surge in both wind and solar against no increase in overall demand has definitely put the squeeze on both coal and gas.” — Anthony Yuen, director of global energy strategies, Citi Research.
“The surge in both wind and solar against no increase in overall demand has definitely put the squeeze on both coal and gas,” said Yuen.
Several other presenters supported the outlook that the gains in gas-fired generation at the expense of coal has mostly played out, and that as coal use declines further, the beneficiary is expected to be renewables.
David Schlissel, director of resource planning analysis at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said that wind provided 32 percent of the energy in the northern region of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) in the seven months from October 2015 through April 2016.
The high point was 42 percent of the energy in April 2016. MISO covers all of Manitoba, Minnesota, Wisconsin and south to Arkansas and Louisiana.
Schlissel also reported that 48 percent of the system load in the Southwest Power Pool (South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma) was served by wind on April 5. Also, 48 percent of the load in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas was served by wind on March 23, and 45 percent on Feb. 18.
As renewable power has gained maturity, so has insurance. “There are new types of coverage that were not available as recently as just a few years ago,” said Charles Long, area senior vice president at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.
“Questions about gaps in coverage and what exposures to retain or transfer are happening in the early stages of a PPA,” he said. “We have seen some standardization in forms, but that is also a result of standardization in equipment.
“The industry has settled on a handful of key suppliers so when we go to market for a placement those components are well known.”
One of the insights gained from operational and loss history is a pattern in claims.
“Incidents with wind turbines are low in years 1, 2 and 3, then there is a spike in years 4 through 8, then a huge drop in claims years 9 to 12, and then an increase again year 13 and out,” Long said.
He stressed that operators and underwriters are still examining the newly emerging patterns to mitigate those losses.
Another interesting development has been the relative rarity of natural catastrophe claims.
“When wind generators first sought markets, they went to the Nat CAT carriers because they had the wind models,” Long said. “With wind power you want lots of wind, but not too much.
The Nat CAT covers were designed for low occurrence, but high loss. What we have seen in practice is higher occurrence of smaller losses. Gear box wear, blade issues — cracks, separation, bird strikes, even being shot — fires, even tower collapses. The least frequency has been Nat CAT.”
That creates a bit of a dilemma for underwriters, said Jatin Sharma, head of business development at specialist renewable energy underwriter GCube Insurance Services.
“Generators have achieved savings by doing their own operations and maintenance, and moved away from relying on manufacturers for that. The insurance sector has been naïve about operators doing their own maintenance.
“It is very different having a utility do its own, versus having it done by the manufacturer who knows the unit and maintains hundreds of them.”
As a result, carriers that are geared for CAT-scale losses have suffered instead from a thousand cuts.
“There are some underwriters seeing claims for just $100,000 to $300,000, but a lot of them,” said Sharma. “To handle that frequency and volume you have to have a claims team built for it.
“At the same time, I sympathize with the risk managers. Buyers are coming out of a utility mind-set, likely mutuals, and are setting low deductibles to satisfy lenders or joint-venture partners. Risk managers’ staffs have been reduced despite the fact that they are managing a different risk profile than what they are used to. That makes them heavily reliant on brokers.”
GCube announced in October that it now provides coverage for more than 4GW of wind assets in Canada. As of last year, and following the installation of 36 new wind energy projects, Canada is seventh in the world in terms of total installed capacity.
At just under 12 GW, wind energy currently caters for approximately 5 percent of Canada’s electricity demands. However, the country has a long-term aim to reach a capacity of 55 GW by 2025, accounting for 20 percent of its total energy needs.
After the Fire
The raging wildfire that roared through Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada, in May and June was so fierce it burned the entire country’s economy.
As a result of the fire, Canada’s GDP experienced its worst dip since the depths of the Great Recession. Losses from the blaze resulted in a 1.1 percent economic contraction in the second quarter. The Bank of Canada cut the country’s economic outlook for the year due to the catastrophe that stopped production at oil sands facilities, forced the evacuation of about 94,000 people and destroyed 2,400 buildings.
The most recent estimate by Property Claim Services puts the insured losses at about $3.6 billion — but while more than 5,000 commercial insurance claims (about $1 billion) are included in that estimate, the hard-hit oil sands producers report few insured losses.
VIDEO: The wildfire had a devastating impact on businesses in the area.
At the peak of the fire, 10 oil and gas producers were temporarily shut down, while work at another one was reduced, said Paul Cutbush, senior vice president, catastrophe management, Aon Benfield Canada.
Even though 1.2 million barrels a day, or about $65 million daily, was lost during that month-long shutdown while the fire was nearby, “no one is talking about any oil and gas claims,” Cutbush said.
That position was made official by Suncor, one of the largest operators that was shut down due to the evacuation, and saw its production reduced by about 20 million barrels because of it.
“The company incurred $50 million of after-tax incremental costs related to evacuation and restart activities,” according to the company’s Q2 earnings report, “which was more than offset by operating cost reductions of $180 million after-tax while operations were shut in.”
It’s not just the lack of damage, said Cutbush. BI policies typically have a waiting period before policies are triggered. That period typically is 60 to 90 days, but since the marketplace is very competitive, he said, it’s possible that some of the oil and gas producers had a 30-day waiting period.
Even so, the evacuation orders issued May 3 that shut production around Fort McMurray — the hub of Canada’s oil sands extraction and processing facilities — only lasted three to four weeks, depending on their location, he said.
“A lot of companies went back online 30 days after the fire,” Cutbush said. “I think if you see any claims, it will be those [insurance] writers who have more competitively agreed to do 30-day waiting periods. But it’s still too early to tell.
“It’s risk management but it’s net retained non-insured risk management.”
The energy companies’ facilities were protected by the effectiveness of the “fire breaks” built to divert the wildfires, he said.
Emphasis on Safety
“The core of Fort McMurray exists because of the oil sands,” said Bill Adams, vice president, Western and Pacific for the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC). “There is a strong focus on safety in those operations, and most of the people in and around Fort McMurray have that in their blood.
“I am not sure any other community in North America could have accomplished the same as that town did.”
From a risk mitigation perspective, Adams said, “this incident really set a new benchmark for what can go wrong when you build a municipality in a boreal forest. We have never seen an event like this that affected so much infrastructure.
“Assessing this fire will definitely give us a new understanding, and many municipalities will have opportunities to avail themselves of the learnings.”
Andrew Bent, manager of enterprise risk management for the Alberta Energy Regulator, also praised the energy companies.
“The operators were fantastic. They knew they were part of the community and they were fast to take in some of the more than 88,000 people who had to be evacuated,” he said.
“As regulator for the industry, we require all operators to have emergency response plans in place.
“Those plans vary with the nature of the operator from site-specific to more general contingency planning. Even so, we were dealing with an event of unprecedented scale. The fire moved very quickly and behaved very unusually from a risk-management perspective.”
The Alberta Energy Regulator had its own risk to manage as well: Bent said the staff’s families had to be evacuated.
“Once we had that secure, we swung into our role of industry support. We were in day-to-day contact with the operators and coordinating with the provincial command center. We had to understand the local situation for the operators and ask for their specific information.”
From previous smaller forest fires, regulators and operators knew that there was actually little external fire danger to mine lands, if any. Given the wide, if ugly, swathes of cleared land around the processing plants, there was little external fire danger to those either.
Still, regulators gave a general, but not blanket, emergency authorization for operators to build berms around their properties without having to file permits in advance. Actions would be reviewed afterward for environmental and safety compliance.
“The oil sands companies had better fire breaks than the towns themselves,” said Cutbush of Aon Benfield.
In addition to homes and two hotels, the wildfire destroyed three camps used by subcontractors to house oil and gas workers, which should be covered under property policies. Other direct damage from fire and smoke should also be among the covered commercial claims, he said.
Remarkably, no deaths were directly attributable to the fires.
Ethan Bayne, chief of staff for the Provincial Wildfire Recovery Task Force, said the area was “lucky the fire spared major elements of the region’s infrastructure. That includes the major hospital, the water treatment facilities and the airport.”
He credited local officials and industries, notably the oil sands producers, with being responsive and responsible. “The province ran an operations command center for the fire response. In the event, private fire apparatus from industry were deployed.”
In all, about 40,000 claims have been filed from wildfire that began May 1 and was finally declared under control on July 5.
It was the costliest insured wildfire on record in North America, and the costliest insured natural catastrophe in all of Canada, according to PCS, resulting in about double the claims filed after the 2013 floods in Southern Alberta.
Standard & Poors reported that primary insurers “generally have sufficient available reinsurance coverage, adequate capital adequacy, and enough group-level support (for certain subsidiaries) to absorb the losses. However, insurers with a smaller premium base and more concentrated or outsize exposure to Alberta could face some strain and their ratings may come under pressure.”
A number of insurance-linked securities funds were also hit by losses from the wildfire, but it’s unclear as to the extent.
While fires continue to burn — there are forest fires all summer, every summer, in Canada and the U.S. — the focus in and around Fort McMurray has shifted firmly to recovery.
In the near term, the commercial focus is on rebuilding and restoration of the temporary housing needs to get business and industry back to capacity.
The IBC coordinated an effort by 40 or so underwriters handling claims to arrange a single contractor to demolish and clear damaged structures in the area.
The Alberta Energy Regulator recovery team is working with operators on start-up operational plans while monitoring regional air quality to ensure there is no risk to public safety or the environment, according to the agency.
Fewer than 1,000 of the nearly 90,000 people evacuated have returned following the lifting of the provincial state of emergency.
“From previous wildfires we have learned, unfortunately, that recovery is not quick and it is not linear,” said Bayne. “There are unforeseen and unforeseeable complications and delays.”
Fort McMurray is accustomed to boom and bust cycles, Bayne said, “but what we are facing now is a scale never before seen.”
“At the peak boom time of the oil sands development, the region saw 600 homes completed in a year. But even if we can repeat that, it would take more than three years to rebuild 1,900 homes. The short-term housing need is already being addressed.”
He added that the first milestone in provincial recovery will be a formal recovery plan due to be released in the middle of September. It will include preliminary assessments of the incident, and also a first look at major needs for recovery.
“I cannot emphasize enough our thanks and appreciation of the oil sands industry, the indigenous communities, and the Red Cross,” said Bayne. “Our role has just been to coordinate the work they have done with the regional municipalities.” &
Mind the Gap in Global Logistics
Manufacturers and shippers are going global.
As inventories grow, shippers need sophisticated systems to manage it all, and many companies choose to outsource significant chunks of their supply chain management to contracted providers. A recent survey by market research firm Transport Intelligence reveals that outsourcing outnumbers nearshoring in the logistics industry by 2:1. In addition, only 16.7 percent of respondents stated they are outsourcing fewer logistics processes today than they were three years ago.
Those providers in turn take more responsibilities through each step of the bailment process, from processing, packaging and labeling to transportation and storage. Spending in the U.S. logistics and transportation industry totaled $1.45 trillion in 2014 and represented 8.3 percent of annual gross domestic product, according to the International Trade Administration.
“Traditionally these outside parties provided one phase of the supply chain process, perhaps transportation, or just warehousing. Today many of these companies are extending their services and product offerings to many phases of supply chain management,” said Mike Perrotti, Senior Vice President, Inland Marine, XL Catlin.
Such companies are known as third-party logistics (3PL) providers, or even fourth-party logistics (4PL) providers. They could provide transportation, storage, pick-n-pack, processing or consolidation/deconsolidation.
As the provider’s logistics responsibilities widen, their insurance needs grow.
“In the past, the underwriters would piecemeal together different coverages for these logistics providers. For instance, they might take a motor truck cargo policy, and attach a warehouse form, a bailee’s form, other inland marine products, and an ocean cargo form. You would have most of the exposures covered, but when you start taking different products and bolting them together, you end up with gaps,” said Alexander McGinley, Vice President, US Marine, XL Catlin.
A comprehensive logistics form can close those gaps, and demand for such a product has been on the rise over the past decade as logistics providers search for a better way to manage their range of exposures.
“Traditionally these outside parties provided one phase of the supply chain process, perhaps transportation, or just warehousing. Today many of these companies are extending their services and product offerings to many phases of supply chain management.”
–Mike Perrotti, Senior Vice President, Inland Marine, XL Catlin
A Complementary Package
XL Catlin’s Logistics Services Coverage Solutions takes a holistic approach to the legal liability that 3PL providers face while a manufacturer’s stock is in their care, custody and control.
“A 3PL’s legal liability for loss or damage from a covered cause of loss to the covered property during storage, packaging, consolidation, shipping and related services would be insured under this comprehensive policy,” McGinley said. “It provides piece of mind to both the owner of the goods and the logistics provider that they are protected if something goes wrong.”
In addition to coverage for physical damage, the logistics solution also provides protection from cyber risks, employee theft and contract penalties, and from emerging exposures created by the FDA Food Modernization Act.
This coverage form, however, only protects 3PL companies’ operations within the U.S., its territories and possessions, and Canada. Many large shippers also have an international arm that needs the same protection.
XL Catlin’s Ocean Cargo Coverage Solutions product rounds out the logistics solution with international coverage.
While Ocean Cargo coverage typically serves the owner of a shipment or their customers, it can also be provided to the internationally exposed logistics provider to cover the cargo of others while in their care, custody, and control.
“This covers a client’s shipment that they’re buying from or selling to another party while it’s in transit, by any type of conveyance, anywhere in the world,” said Andrew D’Alessio, National Ocean Cargo Product Leader, XL Catlin. “When provided to the logistics company, they in turn insure the shipment on behalf of the owner of the cargo.”
The international component provided by ocean cargo coverage can also eliminate clients’ fears over non-compliance if admitted insurance coverage is purchased. Through its global network, XL Catlin is uniquely positioned as a multi-national insurer to offer locally admitted coverages in over 200 countries.
“In the past, the underwriters would piecemeal together different coverages for these logistics providers. For instance, they might take a motor truck cargo policy, and attach a warehouse form, a bailee’s form, other inland marine products, and an ocean cargo form. You would have most of the exposures covered, but when you start taking different products and bolting them together, you end up with gaps.”
–Alexander McGinley, Vice President, US Marine, XL Catlin
A Developing Need
The approaching holiday season demonstrates the need for an insurance product that manages both domestic and international logistics exposures.
In the final months of the year, lots of goods will be shipped to the U.S. from major manufacturing nations in Asia. Transportation providers responsible for importing these goods may require two policies: ocean cargo coverage to address risks to shipments outside North America, and a logistics solution to cover risks once goods arrive in the United States or Canada.
“These transportation providers are expanding globally while also shipping throughout the U.S. That’s how the need for both domestic and international logistics coverage evolved. Until now there have been few solutions to holistically manage their exposures,” D’Alessio said.
In another example, D’Alessio described one major paper provider that expanded its business from manufacturing to include logistics management. In this case, the paper company needed coverage as a primary owner of a product and as the bailee managing the goods their clients own in transit.
“That manufacturer has a significant market share of the world’s paper, producing everything from copy paper to Bible paper, wrapping paper, magazine paper, anything you can think of. Because they were so dominant, their customers started asking them to arrange freight for their products as well,” he said.
“These transportation providers are expanding globally while also shipping throughout the U.S. That’s how the need for both domestic and international logistics coverage evolved. Until now there have been few solutions to holistically manage their exposures.”
–Andrew D’Alessio, National Ocean Cargo Product Leader, XL Catlin
The global, multi-national paper company essentially launched a second business, serving as a transportation and logistics provider for their own customers. As the paper shipments changed ownership through the bailment process, the company required two totally different types of insurance coverage: an ocean cargo policy to cover their interests as the owner and producer of the product, and logistics coverage to address their exposures as a transportation provider while they move the products of others.
“As a bailee, they no longer own the products, but they have the care, custody, and control for another party. They need to make sure that they have the appropriate insurance coverage to address those specific risks,” McGinley said.
“From a coverage standpoint, this is slowly but surely becoming the new standard. A logistics form on the inland marine side, combined with an international component, is becoming something that a sophisticated client as well as a sophisticated broker should really be asking for,” McGinley said.
The old status quo method of bolting on coverage forms or additional coverages as needed won’t suffice as global shipping needs become more complex.
With one underwriting solution, the marine team at XL Catlin can insure 3PL clients’ risks from both a domestic and international standpoint.
“The two products, Ocean Cargo Coverage Solutions and Logistics Service Coverage Solutions, can be provided to the same customer to really round out all of their bailment, shipping, transportation, and storage needs domestically and around the globe,” D’Alessio said.
The information contained herein is intended for informational purposes only. Insurance coverage in any particular case will depend upon the type of policy in effect, the terms, conditions and exclusions in any such policy, and the facts of each unique situation. No representation is made that any specific insurance coverage would apply in the circumstances outlined herein. Please refer to the individual policy forms for specific coverage details. XL Catlin, the XL Catlin logo and Make Your World Go are trademarks of XL Group Ltd companies. XL Catlin is the global brand used by XL Group Ltd’s (re)insurance subsidiaries. In the US, the insurance companies of XL Group Ltd are: Catlin Indemnity Company, Catlin Insurance Company, Inc., Catlin Specialty Insurance Company, Greenwich Insurance Company, Indian Harbor Insurance Company, XL Insurance America, Inc., and XL Specialty Insurance Company. Not all of the insurers do business in all jurisdictions nor is coverage available in all jurisdictions. Information accurate as of December 2016.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with XL Catlin. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.