Alternative Energy

Renewable Energy Comes of Age

No longer a niche market, loss histories for renewable energy are reworking how green is insured.
By: | November 8, 2016 • 6 min read

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.

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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.”

Geraldine Kerrigan, managing director, Beecher Carlson

Geraldine Kerrigan, managing director, Beecher Carlson

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.

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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.

Coverage Matures

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.

Jatin Sharma, head of business development, GCube Insurance Services

Jatin Sharma, head of business development, GCube Insurance Services

“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.

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“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.

Gregory DL Morris is an independent business journalist based in New York with 25 years’ experience in industry, energy, finance and transportation. He can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

Risk Report: Entertainment

On With the Show

Entertainment companies are attractive and vulnerable targets for cyber criminals.
By: | December 14, 2017 • 7 min read

Recent hacks on the likes of Sony, HBO and Netflix highlight the vulnerability entertainment companies have to cyber attack. The threat can take many forms, from the destruction or early release of stolen content to the sabotage of broadcast, production or streaming feeds.

Brian Taliaferro, entertainment and hospitality specialist, JLT Specialty USA

“Cyber attacks are becoming the biggest emerging threat for entertainment companies, bringing risk to reputations, bottom lines and the product itself,” said Brian Taliaferro, entertainment and hospitality specialist, JLT Specialty USA.

For most entertainment firms, intellectual property (IP) is the crown jewel that must be protected at all costs, though risk profiles vary by sub-sector. Maintaining an uninterrupted service may be the biggest single concern for live broadcasters and online streaming providers, for example.

In the case of Sony, North Korea was allegedly behind the leak of stolen private information in 2014 in response to a film casting leader Kim Jong Un in what it considered an unfavorable light.

This year, Netflix and HBO both faced pre-broadcast leaks of popular TV series, and Netflix last year also had its systems interrupted by a hack.

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Online video game platforms are also ripe for attack, with Steam admitting that 77,000 of its gamer accounts are hacked every month.

The list goes on and will only get more extensive over time.

Regardless of the platform, any cyber attack that prevents companies from producing or distributing content as planned can have huge financial implications, particularly when it comes to major releases and marquee content, which can make or break a financial year.

“People and culture are the biggest challenges but also the keys to success.” — David Legassick, head of life science, technology and cyber, CNA Hardy

The bottom line, said David Legassick, head of life science, technology and cyber, CNA Hardy, is that these firms have a combination of both assets and business models that are inherently open to attack.

“Vulnerabilities exist at every point in the supply chain because it’s all tech-dependent,” he said, adding that projects often run on public schedules, allowing criminals to time their attacks to maximize impact.

“The combination of IP, revenue and reputation risk make entertainment a hot sector for cyber criminals.”

Touch Point Vulnerabilities

Film, TV, literary and music projects invariably involve numerous collaborators and third-party vendors at every stage, from development to distribution. This creates multiple touchpoints through which hackers could gain access to materials or systems.

According to Kyle Bryant, regional cyber manager, Europe, for Chubb, there is nothing unique about the type of attack media companies suffer — usually non-targeted ransomware attacks with a demand built in.

“However, once inside, the hackers often have a goldmine to exploit,” he said.

He added targeted attacks can be more damaging, however. Some sophisticated types of ransomware attack, for example, are tailored to detect certain file types to extract or destroy.

“NotPetya was designed to be non-recoverable. For a media company, it could be critical if intellectual property is destroyed.”

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As entertainment companies have large consumer bases, they are also attractive targets for ideological attackers wishing to spread messages by hijacking websites and other media, he added.

They also have vast quantities of personal information on cast and crew, including celebrities, which may also have monetary value for hackers.

“It is essential to identify the most critical information assets and then put a value on them. After that, it is all about putting protection in place that matches the level of concern,” Bryant advised.

As with any cyber risk, humans are almost always the biggest point of vulnerability, so training staff to identify risks such as suspicious messages and phishing scams, as well as security and crisis response protocols, is essential. Sources also agree it is vital for entertainment companies to give responsibility for cyber security to a C-suite executive.

“People and culture are the biggest challenges but also the keys to success,” said Legassick.

“Managing the cyber threat is not a job that can just be left to the IT team. It must come from the top and pervade every aspect of how a company works.”

David Legassick, head of life science, technology and cyber, CNA Hardy

Joe DePaul, head of cyber, North America, Willis Towers Watson, suggested entertainment companies adopt a “holistic, integrated approach to cyber risk management,” which includes clearly defining processes and conducting background checks on the cyber security of any third party that touches the IP.

This includes establishing that the third parties understand the importance of the media they are handling and have appropriate physical and non-physical security at least equal to the IP owner in place. These requirements should also be written into contracts with vendors, he added.

“The touchpoints in creating content used to be much more open and collaborative, but following the events of the last few years, entertainment firms have rapidly introduced cyber and physical security to create a more secure environment,” said Ryan Griffin, cyber specialist, JLT Specialty USA.

“These companies are dealing with all the issues large data aggregators have dealt with for years. Some use secure third-party vendors, while others build their own infrastructure. Those who do business securely and avoid leaks can gain an advantage over their competitors.”

Quantification Elusive

If IP is leaked or destroyed, there is little that can be done to reverse the damage. Insurance can cushion the financial blow, though full recovery is very difficult to achieve in the entertainment space, as quantifying the financial impact is so speculative.

As Bill Boeck, insurance and claims counsel, Lockton, pointed out, there are only “a handful of underwriters in the world that would even consider writing this risk,” and sources agreed that even entertainment firms themselves struggle to put a monetary value on this type of exposure.

“The actual value of the IP taken isn’t generally going to be covered unless you have negotiated a bespoke policy,” said Boeck.

“If you’re in season five of a series with a track record and associated income stream, that is much easier, but putting a value on a new script, series or novel is difficult.”

Companies for whom live feeds or streaming are the primary source of revenue may find it easier to recoup losses. Determining the cost of a hack of that sort of service is a more easily quantifiable business interruption loss based on minutes, hours, ad dollars and subscription fees.

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Brokers and insurers agree that while the cyber insurance market has not to date developed specific entertainment products, underwriters are open for negotiation when it comes to covering IP. The ball is therefore in the insured’s court to bring the most accurate projections to the table.

“Clients can get out of the insurance market what they bring to the equation. If you identify your concerns and what you want to get from insurance, the market will respond,” said Bryant.And according to Griffin, entertainment companies are working with their brokers to improve forecasts for the impact of interruptions and IP hacks and to proactively agree to terms with underwriters in advance.

However, Legassick noted that many entertainment firms still add cyber extensions to their standard property policies to cover non-physical damage business interruption, and many may not have the extent of coverage they need.

Crisis Response

Having a well-planned and practiced crisis response plan is critical to minimizing financial and reputational costs. This should involve the input of experienced, specialist third parties, as well as numerous internal departments.

Ryan Griffin, cyber specialist, JLT Specialty USA

“The more business operation leaders can get involved the better,” said Griffin.

Given the entertainment industry’s highly public nature, “it is critically important that the victim of a hack brings in a PR firm to communicate statements both outside and within the organization,” said Boeck, while DePaul added that given that most cyber attacks are not detected for 200-plus days, bringing in a forensic investigator to determine what happened is also essential.

Indeed, said Griffin, knowing who perpetrated the attack could help bring the event to a swifter and cheaper conclusion.

“Is it a nation state upset about the way it’s been portrayed or criminals after a quick buck? Understanding your enemy’s motivation is important in mitigating the damage.”

Some hackers, he noted, have in the past lived up to their word and released encryption keys to unlock stolen data if ransoms are paid. Inevitably, entertainment firms won’t always get so lucky.

Given the potentially catastrophic stakes, it is little surprise these firms are now waking up to the need for robust crisis plans and Fort Knox-level security for valuable projects going forward. &

Antony Ireland is a London-based financial journalist. He can be reached at [email protected]