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.”
New Policies Fill Gaps in Green Energy
Ambitious underwriters are learning to make hay while the sun does not shine. And when the wind does not blow, and the rain does not fall on watersheds.
For years, the intermittent nature of nature vexed the green energy industry. Until recently it was addressed as a technical problem of storage and backup generation.
But recently, several insurers developed coverage that offer a financial recovery approach. To be sure, the demand is coming primarily from lenders and capital investors that back green power projects. The effect, if the markets grow, will be to help normalize both power and profitability.
While the mechanisms for the new programs are new, financial weather instruments are not, said Michael J. Perron, senior vice president for Northeast property placement at Willis Towers Watson, and a 2016 Risk & Insurance Power Broker® in the alternative utilities category.
“Wind productivity was down over the last couple of years, and banks are requiring some type of protection from insureds. The industry has these wind curves and they are just not performing.”
Generators themselves are not yet asking for coverage, said Perron, “but banks are saying, ‘your charts are nice but we need protection.’
“Risk managers at the generators may feel very comfortable with the long-term performance, but banks are asking for more. In some cases the lenders or investors are named as loss payee.”
In general, Perron said, the new demands from backers and the coverage being offered to meet them is beneficial in direction, if not always in degree.
“We do push back on occasion,” he said.
Using an analogy from earthquake coverage, he noted that “we had one client for which the bank demanded $100 million of protection. We modeled the case and found that the 500-year event would cost $20 million so we suggested buying $35 million in coverage.”
Weather Risk Transfer
Underwriter GCube brought its “weather risk transfer mechanism” to North America to respond to “increasing demand from U.S. project-financed wind operators, notably those refinancing or going through acquisitions,” the company stated.
“Utilities and independent power producers have directly cited below-par wind resources as a contributing factor to net losses in 2015 and the first quarter of this year,” it said.
“This financial underperformance, if left unchecked, threatens to undermine the reputation of wind energy as a low-risk, reliable investment — particularly with the emergence of new investors with less tolerance to lower returns.”
“There can be a straight trigger payment, or more complex arrangements more like a cash flow swap or collar.”– Bill Hildebrand, executive vice president, GCube
The basic concept, said Bill Hildebrand, executive vice president of GCube Insurance Services, is a contract with wind or hydro power generators. If the wind or rain is insufficient for the generators to provide the power that they have contracted to deliver, then parametric triggers would result in a payment under the contract.
“We are seeing increased requirements from insureds on behalf of their capital providers for revenue certainty,” said Hildebrand.
“At the same time, we have had carriers come to us with contracts they would like to distribute. Weather insurance has been around for a long time with the same interest in consistency and smoothing of revenue. What is new is this type of flexible contract that we are bringing on behalf of the capacity behind us.”
GCube is using Lloyd’s syndicate papers for backing. As a result contracts can be made on different terms.
“There are options,” said Hildebrand.
“There can be a straight trigger payment, or more complex arrangements more like a cash flow swap or collar.”
The contracts are being offered only to wind and hydro generators, not solar at this point. That is for two reasons: Solar has not seen the dips that the other green energy types have, and because the performance data on solar is not as extensive.
Early in May, a consortium of carriers executed a 10-year proxy revenue swap with a large U.S.-based wind farm. The arrangement allows for hedging wind volume risks for wind farms, to try to ensure stable revenues despite uncertainty of intermittent wind.
Advances in risk modeling and maturity of risk appetite were credited with making the deal more long-term in scope.
The 10-year agreement is designed to secure long-term predictable revenues and mitigate power generation volume uncertainty related to wind resources for the 100-plus MW farm.
But solar is not being neglected. Early in May, specialty insurer Sciemus launched a policy to protect the owners of solar farms against a lack of sunlight.
The policy pays if levels of sunshine fall below an agreed amount, and it is available as a hedging instrument for solar farm operators for up to 10 years.
Other lack of sun insurance schemes are available, but they are tied into property damage programs, experts said. The Sciemus insurance can be purchased as a stand-alone.
The insurance is index-linked and pays a fixed price per unit of lost sunlight at the end of each 12-month period. It is calculated on the sunlight either at the solar farm or at the nearest weather station.
The coverage is available in Europe and North America, and Sciemus plans to roll it out into the Middle East and North Africa later this year.
Commercial Auto Warning: Emerging Frequency and Severity Trends Threaten Policyholders
The slow but steady climb out of the Great Recession means businesses can finally transition out of survival mode and set their sights on growth and expansion.
The construction, retail and energy sectors in particular are enjoying an influx of business — but getting back on their feet doesn’t come free of challenges.
Increasingly, expensive commercial auto losses hamper the upward trend. From 2012 to 2015, auto loss costs increased a cumulative 20 percent, according to the Insurance Services Office.
“Since the recession ended, commercial auto losses have challenged businesses trying to grow,” said David Blessing, SVP and Chief Underwriting Officer for National Insurance Casualty at Liberty Mutual Insurance. “As the economy improves and businesses expand, it means there are more vehicles on the road covering more miles. That is pushing up the frequency of auto accidents.”
For companies with transportation exposure, costly auto losses can hinder continued growth. Buyers who partner closely with their insurance brokers and carriers to understand these risks – and the consultative support and tools available to manage them – are better positioned to protect their employees, fleets, and businesses.
Liberty Mutual’s David Blessing discusses key challenges in the commercial auto market.
“Since the recession ended, commercial auto losses have challenged businesses trying to grow. As the economy improves and businesses expand, it means there are more vehicles on the road covering more miles. That is pushing up the frequency of auto accidents.”
–David Blessing, SVP and Chief Underwriting Officer for National Insurance Casualty, Liberty Mutual Insurance
More Accidents, More Dollars
Rising claims costs typically stem from either increased frequency or severity — but in the case of commercial auto, it’s both. This presents risk managers with the unique challenge of blunting a double-edged sword.
Cumulative miles driven in February, 2016, were up 5.6 percent compared to February, 2015, Blessing said. Unfortunately, inexperienced drivers are at the helm for a good portion of those miles.
A severe shortage of experienced commercial drivers — nearing 50,000 by the end of 2015, according to the American Trucking Association — means a limited pool to choose from. Drivers completing unfamiliar routes or lacking practice behind the wheel translate into more accidents, but companies facing intense competition for experienced drivers with good driving records may be tempted to let risk management best practices slip, like proper driver screening and training.
Distracted driving, whether it’s as a result of using a phone, eating, or reading directions, is another factor contributing to the number of accidents on the road. Recent findings from the National Safety Council indicate that as much as 27% of crashes involved drivers talking or texting on cell phones.
The factors driving increased frequency in the commercial auto market.
In addition to increased frequency, a variety of other factors are driving up claim severity, resulting in higher payments for both bodily injury and property damage.
Treating those injured in a commercial auto accident is more expensive than ever as medical costs rise at a faster rate than the overall Consumer Price Index.
“Medical inflation continues to go up by about three percent, whereas the core CPI is closer to two percent,” Blessing said.
Changing physical medicine fee schedules in some states also drive up commercial auto claim costs. California, for example, increased the cost of physical medicine by 38 percent over the past two years and will increase it by a total of 64 percent by the end of 2017.
And then there is the cost of repairing and replacing damaged vehicles.
“There are a lot of new vehicles on the road, and those cost more to repair and replace,” Blessing said. “In the last few years, heavy truck sales have increased at double digit rates — 15 percent in 2014, followed by an additional 11 percent in 2015.”
The impact is seen in the industry-wide combined ratio for commercial auto coverage, which per Conning, increased from 103 in 2014 to 105 for 2015, and is forecast to grow to nearly 110 by 2018.
None of these trends show signs of slowing or reversing, especially as the advent of driverless technology introduces its own risks and makes new vehicles all the more valuable. Now is the time to reign in auto exposure, before the cost of claims balloons even further.
The factors driving up commercial auto claims severity.
Data Opens Window to Driver Behavior
To better manage the total cost of commercial auto insurance, Blessing believes risk management should focus on the driver, not just the vehicle. In this journey, fleet telematics data plays a key role, unlocking insight on the driver behavior that contributes to accidents.
“Roughly half of large fleets have telematics built into their trucks,” Blessing said. “Traditionally, they are used to improve business performance by managing maintenance and routing to better control fuel costs. But we see opportunity there to improve driver performance, and so do risk managers.”
Liberty Mutual’s Managing Vital Driver Performance tool helps clients parse through data provided by telematics vendors and apply it toward cultivating safer driving habits.
“Risk managers can get overwhelmed with all of the data coming out of telematics. They may not know how to set the right parameters, or they get too many alerts from the provider,” Blessing said.
“We can help take that data and turn it into a concrete plan of action the customer can use to build a better risk management program by monitoring driver behavior, identifying the root causes of poor driving performance and developing training and other approaches to improve performance.”
Actions risk managers can take to better manage commercial auto frequency and severity trends.
Rather than focusing on the vehicle, the Managing Vital Driver Performance tool focuses on the driver, looking for indicators of aggressive driving that may lead to accidents, such as speeding, sharp turns and hard or sudden braking.
The tool helps a risk manager see if drivers consistently exhibit any of these behaviors, and take actions to improve driving performance before an accident happens. Liberty’s risk control consultants can also interview drivers to drill deeper into the data and find out what causes those behaviors in the first place.
Sometimes patterns of unsafe driving reveal issues at the management level.
“Our behavior-based program is also for supervisors and managers, not just drivers,” Blessing said. “This is where we help them set the tone and expectations with their drivers.”
For example, if data analysis and interviews reveal that fatigue factors into poor driving performance, management can identify ways to address that fatigue, including changing assigned work levels and requirements. Are drivers expected to make too many deliveries in a single shift, or are they required to interact with dispatch while driving?
“Management support of safety is so important, and work levels and expectations should be realistic,” Blessing said.
A Consultative Approach
In addition to its Managing Vital Driver Performance tool, Liberty’s team of risk control consultants helps commercial auto policyholders establish screening criteria for new drivers, creating a “driver scorecard” to reflect a potential new hire’s driving record, any Motor Vehicle Reports, years of experience, and familiarity with the type of vehicle that a company uses.
“Our whole approach is consultative,” Blessing said. “We probe and listen and try to understand a client’s strengths and challenges, and then make recommendations to help them establish the best practices they need.”
“With our approach and tools, we do something no one else in the industry does, which is perform the root cause analysis to help prevent accidents, better protecting a commercial auto policyholder’s employees and bottom line.”
This article was produced by the R&I Brand Studio, a unit of the advertising department of Risk & Insurance, in collaboration with Liberty Mutual Insurance. The editorial staff of Risk & Insurance had no role in its preparation.