Wind Turbines Slow Down Hurricane Winds
Off the New York coastline would be a perfect place for an array of wind turbines, according to a Stanford professor. It would not only offer clean energy to the Big Apple but it would protect it the next time a Superstorm Sandy comes calling.
“If you have a large enough array of wind turbines, you can prevent the wind speeds [of a hurricane] from ever getting up to the destructive wind speeds,” said Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University.
Computer models demonstrated that offshore wind turbines reduce peak wind speeds in hurricanes by up to 92 mph and decrease storm surge by up to 79 percent, said Jacobson, who worked on the study with University of Delaware researchers Cristina Archer and Willett Kempton.
“The additional benefits are there is zero cost unlike seawalls, which would cost about $30 billion,” he said, noting that the wind turbines “generate electricity so they pay for themselves.”
The researchers studied three hurricanes, Sandy and Isaac, which struck New York and New Orleans, respectively, in 2012; and Katrina, which slammed into New Orleans in 2005. Generally, 70 percent of damage is caused by storm surge, with wind causing the remaining 30 percent, he said.
That’s why onshore wind farms would not be as effective, he said. While they would reduce the wind speed, they wouldn’t impact storm surge.
In 2013, one of the “most inactive” Atlantic hurricane seasons on record, insured losses totaled $920 million, according to Guy Carpenter, which relied on information from the Mexican Association of Insurance Institutions. The most noteworthy events were Hurricane Ingrid in the Atlantic and Tropical Storm Manuel in the Pacific, which displaced thousands as they caused excessive rainfall, flooding and mudslides.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, Katrina was the costliest hurricane in insurance history, at $48.7 billion, followed by Andrew in 1992 at $25.6 billion and Sandy at $18.8 billion. Economic losses, of course, were much higher.
Wind turbines, which can withstand speeds of up to 112 mph, dissipate the hurricane winds from the outside-in, according to Jacobson’s study. First, they slow down the outer rotation winds, which feeds back to decrease wave height. That reduces the movement of air toward the center of the hurricane, and increases the central pressure, which in turn slows the winds of the entire hurricane and dissipates it faster.
The benefit would occur whether the turbines were immediately upstream of a city, or along an expanse of coastline. It could take anywhere from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of wind turbines off the coast to offer sufficient hurricane protection.
At present, there are no wind farms off the U.S. coastline, although 18 have been proposed for off the East Coast. Proposals have also been made for off the West Coast and the Great Lakes. There are 25 operational wind farms off the coast of Europe.
“Overall,” Jacobson and his colleagues concluded in the study, “we find here that large arrays of electricity-generating offshore wind turbines may diminish hurricane risk cost-effectively while reducing air pollution and global warming, and providing local or regionally sourced energy supply.”
Standing up for Insureds
In 2009, commercial property insurers collectively decided that they were no longer obligated to notify certificate holders or other designated insured third parties that policies naming them as insureds had been cancelled or not renewed.
That did not sit well with David Hershey, risk manager at Sprague Operating Resources in Portsmouth, N.H., who needed to know the insurance status of hundreds of vendors, partners and suppliers coming onto the premises of the company’s busy oil and gas terminals and other facilities that are open around the clock.
First, Hershey and his team reminded Sprague’s vendors, suppliers and customers of their contractual obligations to have their insurer notify Sprague of any cancellation of a policy on which it was a named insured or certificate holder, or else they wouldn’t be allowed to enter Sprague’s facilities.
But simply putting the onus on those business partners and customers was not enough. Hershey created another full-time position, a risk management compliance coordinator, to help vendors and suppliers obtain policy endorsements from their carriers, restoring the insurers’ obligation to provide notice of cancellation within 30 days.
Doing so also required extensive work with insurance agents, brokers and underwriters.
Since then, Sprague has received roughly 80 sample endorsements from various insurance companies reinstating the insurer’s notice obligation.
“This allows us to either maintain or raise our self-insured retentions in the absence of knowing whether or not individual firms that come on our property have current compliant insurance,” Hershey said.
“We would have to have lower deductibles or self-insure retentions in order to compensate for that deficiency.”
Hershey said that many insurance agents try to negotiate the notice of cancellation provision out of contracts, but “that’s easier said than done.” He reviews roughly 35 contacts a week, and the vast majority contain such notices.
“Commerce is not in business to justify the insurance industry, insurers, agents and brokers,” Hershey said.
“They are there to facilitate commerce, not to manage it to suit their own perceived business risks.”
Hershey’s “insistence” on the notice of cancellation certainly brought more focus and attention to this issue, and now brokers and carriers know that they must insure their clients’ policies are properly endorsed “to meet a very necessary and important requirement of our contracts,” said Jaime Michaud, who was hired as Sprague’s risk management compliance coordinator.
Moreover, Hershey has been helpful in pointing out common exclusions to some insurers’ existing notice of cancellation endorsements, such as notice of cancellation for non-payment, she said.
“Making sure that the notice of cancellation requirement is enforced has afforded a higher percentage of security for our company should a loss occur,” Michaud said.
Ronnie Mordan, director of marketing at Anderson Kill P.C. in New York City, said that Hershey “employs a practical approach to problem-solving.”
“His experience in risk and insurance is particularly evident in his ‘plain English’ approach to presenting on the sometimes complex topics of environmental insurance, policy language, and risk management,” Mordan said.
David is also being recognized as a 2014 Responsibility Leader.
Making a Difference
David Hershey is a prolific speaker and writer on risk management topics. The list of industry awards he has won and industry leadership positions he occupies runs longer than most restaurant menus.
He has also volunteered his creativity and passion about risk management by serving on the External Affairs Committee and Standards & Practices Committee of the national RIMS organization.He serves as a board member, president, vice president, and committee member — both now and in the past — for the New Hampshire chapter of the CPCU, the Massachusetts and Delaware Valley chapters of RIMS, the Philadelphia Area Risk Managers Association, the Governor’s Council on Insurance Fraud, and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.
Sharing his knowledge with others, Hershey taught classes for the Insurance Society of Philadelphia and the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of New Hampshire.
In challenging insurance carriers to restore their obligation to inform named insureds when a policy is cancelled — and establishing a process to make sure his company was protected — Hershey made a difference to countless others in the risk management community, not just himself or his company.
“Notification is one of the core concepts of risk management,” he rightly noted.
Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, perseverance and/or passion.
Responsibility Leaders overcome obstacles by doing the right thing over the easy thing to find practical solutions that benefit their co-workers and community.
A New Dawn in Civil Construction Underwriting
Pennsylvania school children know the tunnels on the Pennsylvania Turnpike by name — Blue Mountain, Kittatinny, Tuscarora, and Allegheny.
San Francisco owes much of its allure to the Golden Gate Bridge. The Delaware Memorial Bridge commemorates our fallen soldiers.
Our public sector infrastructure is much more than its function as a path for trucks and automobiles. It is part of our national and regional identity.
Yet it’s widely known that much of our infrastructure is inadequate. Given the number of structures designated as substandard, the task ahead is substantial.
The Civil Construction projects that can meet these challenges, however, carry a unique set of risks compared to other forms of construction.
“The bottom line is that there is always risk in a Civil Construction project. If the parties involved don’t understand what risk they carry, then the chances are there are going to be some problems, and the insurers would ideally like to understand the potential for these problems in advance.”
– Paul Hampshire, Vice President – Civil Construction, LIU
The good news is that recent developments in construction standards and risk management techniques provide a solid foundation for the type and risk allocation of Civil Construction projects they are underwriting. Carriers need to be able to adequately assess the client and design and construction teams that are involved.
For Builder’s Risk Programs, a successful approach prioritizes a focus on four key factors. These factors are looked at not only during the underwriting phase of the project but also in the all-important site construction phase, under the umbrella of a Risk Management Program, or RMP.
Four key factors
Four key factors that LIU focuses on in underwriting and providing risk management services on a Civil Construction project include:
1. Resource knowledge and experience: When creating a coverage plan, carriers work to understand who is delivering the project and how well suited key staff members are to addressing the project’s technical and management challenges. Research has shown that the knowledge and experience of those key players, combined with their ability to communicate effectively, is a big factor in the project’s success.
“We look to understand who is delivering a project, their expertise and experience in delivering projects of similar technical complexity in similar working conditions, even down to looking at the resumés of people in key positions,” said Paul Hampshire, Houston-based Vice President with Liberty International Underwriters.
2. Ground conditions and water: Soil and rock composition, the influence of ground and surface water, and foundation stability are key additional considerations in the construction of bridges, tunnels, and transit systems. If a suitable level of relevant ground (geotechnical) investigation and study has not been undertaken, or the results of such work not clearly interpreted, then it’s a red flag to underwriters, who would then question whether the project risk profile has been adequately evaluated and risks clearly and transparently allocated via suitable contract conditions.
“As we all know, ground is very rarely a homogenous element within Civil Construction projects,” LIU’s Hampshire said.
“It tends to vary from any proposed geotechnical baseline specification with the consequential potential for changes in behavior during construction. We need to understand who has assessed the condition of the ground, its behavior and design parameters when compared with a particular method of construction, and all importantly, who has been allocated the ground risk in a project and the upfront mechanisms for contractual ground risk sharing, if applicable,” he said.
Knowing how much water is associated with the in-situ ground conditions as well as the intensity, distribution and adequate accommodation (both in the temporary as well as in the permanent project configurations) of rainfall for a site location and topography are also key. Tunneling projects, for example, can be hampered by the presence of too much or unforeseen quantities of groundwater.
“In major tunneling infrastructure projects, the influence of in-situ groundwater pressures and /or water inflows is a major factor when considering the choice of excavation method and sequence as well as tunnel lining design requirements,” LIU’s Hampshire said.
According to a recent article in Risk & Insurance, tunneling under a body of water is one of the most challenging risk engineering feats. Adequate drainage layouts and their installation sequence for highway projects and, in particular, the protection of sub-grade works are also important. “But under all circumstances, we need to understand how the water conditions have been evaluated,” Hampshire said.
3. Technical Challenges: This risk factor encompasses the assessment of the technical novelty or prototypical nature of the project (or more often, specific elements of it) and how well the previously demonstrated experience of both the design and construction teams aligns with the project’s technical requirements and the form of contract determined for the project. The client can choose the team, but savvy underwriters will conduct their own assessment to see how well-suited the team is to technical demands of the project.
4. Evaluation of Time and Cost: With limited information generally provided, we need to be able to verify as best as possible the adequacy of both the time and cost elements of the project. Our belief is simply that projects that are insufficient in either one or both of these elements potentially pose an increased risk, as the construction consortium tries to compensate for these deficiencies during construction.
Small diameter Tunnel Boring Machine designed for mixed ground conditions and water pressures in excess of 2.5 bar.
In the 1990s and early years of this millennium, a series of high-profile tunnel failures across the globe resulted in major losses for Civil Construction underwriters and their insureds.
In the early 2000s, both the tunnel and insurance industries worked together to create new standards for high-risk tunneling projects.
A Code of Practice for the Risk Management of Tunnel Works (TCoP) is increasingly relied on by project managers and underwriters to define the best practices in tunnel construction projects. This process ideally starts at project inception (conceptual design stage or equivalent) and continues to the hand-over of the completed project.
LIU’s Hampshire said alongside TCoP, the project-specific Geotechnical Baseline Report and its interpretation and reference within the project contract conditions gives the underwriter greater clarity as to who recognizes and carries the ground risk and how it’s allocated.
“The bottom line is that there is always risk in a Civil Construction project,” Hampshire said. “Is the risk transparently allocated or is it buried? If the parties involved don’t understand what risk they carry, then the chances are there are going to be some problems, and the insurers would ideally like to understand the potential for these problems in advance,” Hampshire said.
Paul Hampshire can be reached at Paul.Hampshire@libertyiu.com.
To learn more about how Liberty International Underwriters can help you conduct a Civil Construction risk assessment before your next project, contact your broker.
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty International Underwriters. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.