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.”
Insurance Without Limits
When we think of energy, we tend to think in terms of limits.
As in, there is a limited volume of greenhouse gasses that the earth’s atmosphere can absorb; there is only so much coal; how deep must we drill the deepest hole until we find out that there is no more oil?
But what if energy resources and the future human endeavors they power were truly limitless?
That seems to be the spirit of the collaboration between Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, the corporate insurance division of the Zurich-based insurer and reinsurer Swiss Re, and Solar Impulse, an ambitious project to build and fly a solar-powered plane around the world.
Launched on its global trip in 2012 by Swiss explorer Bertrand Piccard and his partner, businessman Andre Borschberg, Solar Impulse, insured by Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, is within weeks of achieving its goal.
As of early July, the plane was in Seville, Spain and was preparing to embark on the last two legs of a 17-leg around-the-world trip, with the goal of landing at its starting point in Abu Dhabi.
Light as a small family car, but with the wingspan of a Boeing 747, the plane is powered only by solar panels on the surface of its enormous wings and has an insured value of $12.5 million.
For Juerg Trueb, a Zurich-based head of environmental and commodity markets for Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, the partnership with Solar Impulse is an example of the speed at which technology is advancing, and the imperative on the part of insurance companies that they keep pace with that change.
If you go beyond the symbol, these are the tangible things that we do and that resonate in the context of Solar Impulse.– Juerg Trueb, head of environmental and commodity markets for Swiss Re
After all, in providing aircraft liability, hull and personal accident insurance for the plane’s two-man crew, the insurer is in essence underwriting a prototype, a craft for which there is no loss history because its kind has never been seen before.
“Solar Impulse stands for the dream to power a plane by renewable energy,” Trueb said.
“It’s a symbol for technology innovation and clean energy production and a sustainable business that allows us to both prosper and conserve nature,” Trueb said.
That notion of sustainability, is something Swiss Re Corporate Solutions and its parent company puts into action, not only in the types of projects it insures, solar and offshore wind farms, for example, but in the degree of sustainability engrained in its investment portfolio.
“If you go beyond the symbol, these are the tangible things that we do and that resonate in the context of Solar Impulse,” Trueb said.
In addition to the awards it’s won for sustainable business practice and ethics, Swiss Re, through its Swiss Re Foundation, has for more than decade funded the International ReSource Award for Sustainable Watershed Management, which carries with it a $150,00 prize awarded by an international jury.
Solar Impulse already owns an aviation record for the longest continuous flight by a solar plane. In 2015, it flew from Nagoya, Japan to Hawaii. That flight lasted 117 hours and 52 minutes and covered about 4,473 miles.
Of course Solar Impulse isn’t the only solar-powered craft making news this summer. Juno, NASA’s solar-powered space probe, entered Jupiter’s orbit in early July, after a voyage of some 1.8 billion miles over five years.
Buyers Beware: General Liability Outlook May be Shifting
The soothing drumbeat of “excess capital” and “soft market” to describe the general liability (GL) market is a familiar sound for brokers and buyers. Emerging GL trends, however, suggest the calm may not last.
Increasing severity of GL claims may hit some sectors like a light rain at first, if they have not already, but they could quickly feel like a pelting thunderstorm in others. A number of factors could contribute to the potential jump in GL prices for certain industry segments or exposures, possibly creating “micro” or niche hard markets in the short-term, and maybe even turning the broader market over the longer-term.
“There are trends we’re seeing that will play out slowly. Industries that carry more general liability exposure will and have been hit first and hardest, but it won’t apply across the board initially,” said David Perez, Senior Vice President and Chief Underwriting Officer, for Liberty Mutual Insurance’s National Insurance Specialty operation. “There is ample capital in the market today, which allows a poor performing account to move its policy frequently from carrier to carrier. Poorer performing classes, however, will likely face increased pricing for GL policies and a reduction in capacity.”
The good news for buyers is that they can take action today to lessen the impact these trends and the evolving market may have on their GL programs.
David Perez on the state of the GL market.
Medical and Litigation Trends Drive Severity
One factor increasing claim severity is the rising cost of health care, driven both by greater demand and by medical inflation that is growing faster than the Consumer Price index.
The impact of rising medical costs on commercial auto is well-known. Businesses with heavy transportation exposures are finding it more difficult to obtain coverage, or are paying more for it.
That same trend will impact general liability, just on a slower and more fragmented basis.
“In light of these trends, brokers and buyers should seek to understand how effectively their current or potential insurers defend GL claims, particular in using evidence-based medicine to assess and value the medical portion of a claim, and how they can provide necessary care to claimants while still helping clients control their total cost of risk.”
— David Perez, Senior Vice President & Chief Underwriting Officer, National Insurance Specialty, Liberty Mutual Insurance
“It takes longer for medical inflation to register through the tort system in general liability than it does in auto liability (AL) because auto claims are generally resolved more quickly,” Perez said. “But the same factors affecting severity in AL also exist in GL and as a result, it’s foreseeable that we will not only see similar severity trends in GL, but they may in fact be worse than we’ve seen in commercial auto.”
Industries with greater exposure to severity in general liability claims should be the first wave of companies to notice the impact of medical inflation.
“Medical inflation will drive up costs across the board, but sectors like construction and product manufacturing have a higher relative exposure for personal injury lawsuits.”
The impact of medical inflation on the GL market.
Beyond medical inflation, two litigation trends are increasing GL damages. First, plaintiffs’ lawyers are seeking to migrate the use of life care plans—traditionally employed only for truly catastrophic injuries—to more routine claims. Perez recalled one claimant with a broken thumb and torn ligaments who sought as much as $1 million in care for the injury for the rest of his life.
Second, the number of allegations of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in GL claims is growing. It can be difficult to predict TBI outcomes initially and poor outcomes can be expensive and long tailed.
“In light of these trends, brokers and buyers should seek to understand how effectively their current or potential insurers defend GL claims, particular in using evidence-based medicine to assess and value the medical portion of a claim, and how they can provide necessary care to claimants while still helping clients control their total cost of risk,” notes Perez.
Changing Legal Landscape
Medical inflation and litigation trends are not the only issues impacting general liability.
Unanticipated changes in court interpretations of policy language can throw unexpected pressure on GL pricing and capacity.
Courts sometimes issue rulings interpreting policy language in a manner that expands coverage well beyond the underwriter’s original intent. Such opinions may sometimes have a retroactive effect, resulting in an immediate impact on not only open, but also closed cases in some circumstances.
Shifts in the Marketplace
In addition to facing price increases, GL brokers and buyers will be challenged by slightly shrinking capacity due to consolidation and repositioning among carriers in the marketplace. “Some major carriers have scaled back their GL writing, resulting in a migration of experienced senior management. As these executives leave, they take their GL expertise and relationships with them, resulting in fewer market leaders and less innovation,” Perez said.
“Additionally, there are new carriers coming into the business that may not have the historical GL loss data to proactively identify trends or the financial strength and experience to effectively service their GL customers and brokers. Both trends make it important for brokers and buyers to work with an insurer that is committed to the GL market and has the understanding and resources to help better manage risks impacting customers.”
Last year saw a high level of mergers and acquisitions in the insurance industry. Buyers should take advantage of that disruption to re-evaluate their needs and whether their insurers are meeting them. Or better yet, anticipating them.
What’s a Buyer to Do?
Buyers—and their brokers— should look to partner with insurers that can spot emerging trends and offer creative solutions to address them proactively.
What should buyers and brokers do, given the trends facing the GL market?
“Brokers and buyers should value insurers that have not only durability and a long history in the general liability business, but also a strong risk management infrastructure,” Perez said. “Your insurer should be able to help you mitigate your specific risks, and complement that with coverage that works for you.”
Beyond robust GL claims and legal management, Liberty Mutual also provides access to one of the insurance industry’s largest risk control departments to help improve safety and mitigate both claim frequency and severity.
In addition, notes Perez, “Even if a company has a less than optimal loss history in general liability, there can be options to provide adequate coverage for that company. The key is to partner with an insurer that has the best-in-class expertise, creativity, and flexibility to make it happen.”
By working closely with their insurers to understand trends and their potential impacts, brokers and buyers can better prepare for the possible GL storm on the horizon.
To learn more about Liberty Mutual’s general liability offering, visit https://business.libertymutualgroup.com/business-insurance/coverages/general-liability-insurance-policy.
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.