Alternative Energy

Insurance Without Limits

Swiss Re Corporate Solutions partners with two intrepid explorers to prove the mettle of solar power in flight.
By: | July 11, 2016

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.

 Juerg Trueb, head of environmental and commodity markets, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions

Juerg Trueb, head of environmental and commodity markets, Swiss Re Corporate Solutions

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.

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“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.

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

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]