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

Black Swan: Cloud Attack

Breaking Clouds

A combination of physical and cyber attacks on multiple data centers for cloud service providers causes economic havoc. Even the most well-prepared companies are thrown into paralyzing coverage confusion.
By: | July 27, 2017 • 10 min read

Scenario

By month 16 of the new presidential administration, the Sunshine Brigade is more than ready to act.

Stoked by their anger over rampant economic inequality, the mostly college-educated group of what might best be called upper-middle-class anarchists — many of them from California, Oregon and Washington State — put in motion the gears of a plan more than two years in the making.

Their logic, to them at least, is unimpeachable. Continued consolidation of economic power into the hands of fewer and fewer corporations is creating a world where the rich increasingly exploit and shut out the poor.

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The rise of the techno giants is accelerating this trend, according to the Sunshine Brigade’s de facto leader Emily Brookes, an All-American rugby player and a graduate of Reed College in Oregon.

With a new presidential administration seemingly bent on increasing the economic advantages of the rich with no end in sight, nothing to do then but break things up; and in so doing break the hold of this technology oligarchy.

As Emily Brookes so forcefully put in her instant messages to the other members of the brigade: Break the Cloud.

With more than 500 members, many of them with ample financial and technical resources, the Sunshine Brigade is very capable of delivering on its plan for a two-pronged attack.

It is also radicalized enough to justify the loss of some human life, even its own countrymen, to “save” — in its collective logic — the tens of millions of global citizens that are living as virtual slaves in this callous, exploitative global economy.

With websites and digitally connected services large and small down for days, irritation turns to fear.

The first wave in the attack is an attempt to infect and shut down the data centers for the top three cloud service providers. It takes months to set up this offensive.

Rather than rely on a phishing scam from outside the firewalls of the service providers, The Sunshine Brigade uses its social and business connections to place three members on each of the cloud provider’s payrolls. An infected link from someone you know, someone in the cubicle right next to you, seems like an unstoppable play.

It only partially works. Only one of the cloud service providers is harmed when an unsuspecting employee clicks on a link from their traitorous co-worker. The released malware manages to cripple a major cloud service provider for 12 hours.

With millions of users affected, the act creates substantial disruption and garners global headlines. Insured losses are around $1.5 billion. But this is just the beginning.

The morning after, the Sunshine Brigade unleashes a far more devastating and far more ruthless Round Two.

Using self-driving trucks, the Sunshine Brigade smashes into five data centers; three on the West Coast, and two in the Midwest. Fourteen employees of those cloud servers are killed and another 23 injured; some of them critically.

This time the Brigade gets what it wanted. The physical damage to the data centers is substantial enough that it significantly affects three of the top four cloud service providers for five days.

With websites and digitally connected services large and small down for days, irritation turns to fear.

Small and mid-sized banks, which host their applications on clouds, are shut down. Small business owners and consumer banking customers immediately feel the brunt. Retailers that depend on clouds to host their inventory and transaction information are also hit hard.

But really, the blow falls everywhere.

In the U.S., transportation, financial, health, government and other crucial services grind to a halt in many cases.

Not everyone is disrupted. Some of the larger corporations are sophisticated enough in their risk management, those that used back-up clouds and had steadfast business resiliency plans suffer minimal disruption.

Many small to mid-size companies, though, cannot operate. Their employees can’t get to work and when they can, they sit idly in front of blank computer screens connected to useless servers.

For the man on the street, this is hell.

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Long lines blossom at the likes of gas stations, banks and grocery stores. A population already on edge from a steady diet of social media provocation becomes even more inflamed.

By nightfall of Day Five, the three major cloud service providers are recovered, and digital “normalcy” begins to creep back. But for many small and medium-sized businesses, the recovery comes way too late.

Economic losses promise to register in the tens of billions. It’s not being too imaginative to think that losses could hit the $100 billion mark.

Two multinational insurers based in the U.S., three Lloyd’s syndicates and a Bermuda insurer signal to regulators that their aggregate cyber-related losses are so great that they will most likely become insolvent.

Emily Brookes and her cohorts were willing to kill more than a dozen people to promote their worldview. In their youthful naiveté, they could not know just how much suffering they would cause.

Observations

For some commercial insurance carriers, the aggregated losses from a prolonged disruption of cloud computing services could be catastrophic, or close to it.

“It’s on a par with any earthquake or hurricane or tornado,” said Scott Stransky, an associate vice president and principal scientist with the modeling firm AIR Worldwide.

AIR modeled the insured losses for the Fortune 1,000 were Amazon’s cloud service to go down for one day. They came up with a figure of $3 billion.

Now consider that most businesses in this country are small businesses, with not nearly the risk management sophistication of the Fortune 1000. Then consider a cloud interruption of five days or more.

Mark Greisiger, president, NetDiligence

“Almost any company you talk about today would rely to some extent on the cloud, either to host their website, to do invoicing, inventory, you name it — the cloud is being used across the board,” Stransky said.

“It’s a significant issue for insurers and one we think about a lot,” said Nick Economidis, an underwriter with specialty carrier Beazley.

“Should a cloud service provider go down, everybody who is working with that cloud service provider is impacted by that,” he said.

“Now, pretty much every software maker is on the cloud,” said Mark Greisiger, president of NetDiligence.

“In the old days, someone would come in and install software on your servers and come in annually for maintenance. That’s all gone bye-bye. Everybody who makes software is forcing you onto their private cloud,” Greisiger said.

The aggregation risk for carriers is complicated by the degree of transparency they have into which insured’s applications are hosted on which cloud provider.

Now here’s the even trickier part. Clouds outsource to other clouds.

“It’s almost becoming a spider’s web of interdependencies on who has access to what in terms of upstream and downstream providers,” Greisiger said.

Determining which of their insureds is hosted on which cloud, and in turn, where that cloud is outsourcing to other clouds can be very difficult for carriers to determine.

Even if a company is careful to diversify the risks they’re taking, they might not realize that a high percentage of insureds are even with the same cloud provider. They could be hit with devastating losses across their entire portfolio of business, said an executive with BDO consulting.

AIR’s Stransky said his company launched a product in April, ARC, which stands for Analytics of Risk from Cyber, which is designed to help carriers gain that much needed transparency.

Among insureds, surviving an event of this magnitude will depend not only on the sophistication of their risk management department, but on the company’s overall ability to negotiate contracts with vendors and suppliers that will indemnify the company in the case of a cloud outage of this duration.

It will also depend on organization’s understanding that there is no off-the-shelf solution that will prevent an event like this or make a company whole after it.

Shiraz Saeed, national practice leader, cyber, Starr Companies

Experts say contracts with cloud service providers, customers and suppliers must be structured so that a company is defended should it lose cloud access for as much as five days or more.

Best practices also include modeling just what your losses would look like in this area, and vetting your full portfolio of insurance policies to understand how each would respond.

One broker said buyers can’t be blamed if the complexities of the coverage issues at stake here are initially hard to grasp.

“It’s becoming a spider’s web of interdependencies on who has access to what.” —Mark Greisiger, president, NetDiligence

“I think it’s the broker’s job to inform the client of this exposure,” said Doug Friel, a vice president with JKJ Commercial Insurance, based in Newtown, Pa.

“You may have business interruption coverage for direct physical damage to your building. But have you ever thought about your business income if your IT structure goes down?” Friel said.

He said many buyers might not realize there is a difference.

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Large businesses should have the resources to demand from their cloud service providers that they be indemnified for the entirety of a cloud failure event. There will be a fee for that, but it will be well worth paying, Friel said.

“You have to push,” Friel said. “They are going to say, ‘Here is our standard contract, sign it.’ ”

Don’t settle for that, he said, although many do in ignorance, he added.

“Where possible, we would look for clients to negotiate their contracts. These business relationships should be mutually beneficial, even if one of these events occur,” said Shiraz Saeed, national practice leader, cyber, for the Starr Companies.

It’s a partnership, he said.

“It shouldn’t be a zero sum game on either side. I think there should be an understanding of what the potential loss might be and then designing a contract around that,” he said.

While cloud service providers are known for having high grade security systems, most average organizations don’t have the means for that. But no matter what a company’s resources, the first step is modeling where your digital assets are, and what you and your customers stand to lose if you lose access to them.

“Most insureds don’t seem to understand the amount of individual loss that you could be subject to,” said Jim Evans, leader of insurance advisory services at BDO Consulting. “Usually this stuff is measured in hours,” he said. “But what if a cloud provider is out for three or four days?” he said.

“Trying to quantify what you did lose in an event is hard enough. Trying to do a modeling exercise about what you could lose? It’s something that just doesn’t get done enough,” he said.

Once you have an understanding of what you own and what you stand to lose, the next step is prioritizing the protection of the assets you have. That means drilling into your contract with your cloud service providers to get the maximum indemnification.

It also means spreading your risk so that if at all possible, not all of your assets or your customers’ assets are housed by one cloud service provider. Cloud platforms can be public, private, or a hybrid of the two.

Understanding where your assets are in that architecture is crucial. Spending the money to insure that they are protected behind a diverse menu of firewalls is highly advisable.

Navigating the different iterations of business interruption coverage in property, cyber and kidnap and ransom policies is also important.

Make sure your broker can provide clarity on the different types of coverages and tailor them to your needs, experts said.

The concept of design thinking is really what’s in play here. Organizations have to work with vendors in every aspect of their operations to design a risk management system that can sustain this kind of hit.

“Build a better mousetrap to protect yourself,” said JKJ’s Friel.

“Depending on your service, you need to have the best and the brightest designing this stuff. Spread the risk.”

“Don’t be afraid to ask for more,” he said.

Postscript

In engineering an attack on the cloud, Emily Brookes and her cohorts accomplished the opposite of what they set out to do.

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Only the largest corporations with the most sophisticated risk management programs were able to survive the attempt to break the cloud with manageable losses.

Small businesses, the true backbone of the U.S. economy, suffered terribly. Entrepreneurs who put their life’s work into their business lost it in many cases.

Those on the lowest part of the economic scale, the working poor, lost their jobs and their ability to cover their rent and grocery bills. They joined the ranks of those subsidized by the government by the millions.  The attempt to break the cloud resulted in an even more polarized society. &

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]