Illustration by TIME; reference image courtesy of Nathaniel Manning

As devastating wildfires sweep across California year after year, the state’s home-insurance market is struggling. Beset by enormous claims, Allstate stopped offering new policies in the state last year. State Farm pulled out in May. California homeowners face dwindling options, and many have had to go without insurance entirely.

Nathaniel Manning may have a solution. He worked at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy under the Obama Administration, helping to make data from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Federal Emergency Management Agency more accessible to the private sector. One of the prime industries interested in that information, he noticed, was the insurance sector. “I got really obsessed with the space,” he says. “This is the industry that is actually protecting people from climate change.”

In 2019, Manning, 38, co-founded Kettle, a company that’s trying to use AI to create a more nimble insurance market. (He now serves as head of operations.) Most insurance companies use models based on historical data to price policies. They can look at records and see, for instance, that fires occur about once every 50 years in a given area, and then estimate the cost of an insurance policy accordingly. But Manning says this method is getting less effective: “When you have the climate changing, looking in the rearview doesn’t work nearly so well anymore.”

Kettle has a different approach. In addition to historical data, the company is using satellite imagery, weather data, and machine-learning techniques to form what it says is a more accurate picture of the wildfire risks facing California homeowners. This allows the company to offer affordable insurance to homeowners in the state deemed risky by other insurers’ methods, but relatively safe to Kettle. The hope is that the method will create an insurance market that actually prices in climate risk, incentivizing people to move to safer areas. “Some parts of Malibu [are] in the top 5% [of wildfire risk],” says Manning. “That’s really dangerous … You should be paying a lot to live there if you get insurance.” The company has raised about $30 million in venture capital, and it’s recently been growing. Kettle expanded beyond California to the rest of the lower 48 states earlier this summer, and launched a new product insuring against damage from hurricane-force winds. It’s also planning to soon launch an insurance product for businesses. “People don’t realize that it is this data-driven [competition],” says Manning. “Whoever has the best models wins.”

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