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What really is 'renewable'?


While many associate the clean energy sector with solar and wind power, the industry includes a wide variety of firms working to generate environmentally friendly energy.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines renewable energy as “electricity generated by fuel sources that restore themselves over a short period of time and do not diminish.” Those sources can include solar, wind and geothermal power generation.

“Clean tech” companies covered by insurers also often include industries that work to improve power generation and delivery processes, such as smart grid firms that attempt to devise more efficient electricity delivery networks.

San Francisco-based renewable energy research and advisory firm Cleantech Group L.L.C. includes transportation, recycling, biofuel and energy storage firms as part of its analysis of the clean energy industry.

Insurance experts say some smaller industries also can be considered to be part of the green energy sector, including ocean wave power and coal gasification, but often there are disagreements among the industry and advocates about whether certain energy-related industries are genuinely environmentally friendly.

“This space really includes...the full life cycle—(research and development firms), startups, manufacturers and service providers that are involved in efficiency solutions and environmental performance,” said Kirstin Simonson, St. Paul, Minn.-based underwriting director with The Travelers Cos. Inc.

And insurance industry experts say the definition of clean energy is shifting as new technology is developed.

“The technology within each one of these segments evolves over time,” said Rick Niehaus, New York-based senior vp of energy for Liberty International Underwriters.

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