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Daylight Saving – Are we really Saving Anything

Daylight Saving Time (DST) is the practice of setting the clocks forward 1 hour from standard time during the summer months, and back again in the fall.

The Idea of Daylight Saving

Benjamin Franklin takes the honor (or the blame, depending on your view of the time changes) for coming up with the idea to reset clocks in the summer months. In reality, he did not actually, suggest a change in time. Franklin’s connection to DST comes from his 1784 humorous letter to the editor in the Journal de Paris in which he proposed that Parisians could save money on candles by waking up before their normal time of noon. He apparently never thought, anything of the sort would ever be adopted.

DST is also credited to the New Zealand entomologist George Vernon Hudson who proposed the idea to the Royal Society of New Zealand in 1895. Many other publications credit William Willett, an Englishman who campaigned to get the British parliament to pass a Daylight Saving Bill in 1908. In the end, Germany was the first country to implement DST in 1916 to conserve resources during World War I.

The United States followed suit near the end of the war, and reinstituted DST again during World War II. In 1966, Congress established the dates for daylight saving and standard time: The U.S. would "spring forward" on the last Sunday in April, and "fall back" on the last Sunday in October. Starting in 2007, the dates were adjusted to extend daylight saving time. It now starts on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November.

The reason behind introduction of DST was to save energy. Some countries use it to make better use of the natural daylight in the evenings for sports, gardening, cycling, or any other outdoor pursuits. This difference in light is most noticeable in the areas at a certain distance from Earth's equator like Montana or Maine than in Florida or Texas, which don't have as big of a difference in daylight between summer and winter.

Hawaii and Arizona (excluding the Navajo Nation) along with the U.S. overseas territories of American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands do not observe Daylight Saving Time.

No one really knows whether daylight saving time saves energy at all. Research is decidedly mixed on the subject, with some studies actually finding that it boosts energy consumption, and some finding that the energy saved from reduced lighting in the summer months was canceled out by an increase in the use of heating and air conditioning. Other research found savings higher in regions far from the equator, where the length of the day varies considerably throughout the year. Energy usage near the equator where the amount of daylight varies little, actually increased during DST.

Energy Saving Theories

In 2008, Energy Department studied the impact of the extended DST in the U.S. and found that the extra four weeks of DST saved about 0.5 percent in total electricity per day. This would add up to amount of electricity used by more than 100,000 households for an entire year.

DST is not the two days per year when we move our clocks around. DST is eight months long designed to make life more pleasurable for humans. We should stop focusing on only that two days says David Prerau, the author of “Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time” and one of the world's leading authorities on DST.

Without DST, we would not be able to enjoy the most of sunlight for eight months per year. Our mornings would be bright and cheerful, but the sun would be set before we leave work each day. In winter, we abandon DST, because there just isn't enough sunlight to make a difference.

Since energy consumption is relative to outside temperatures, the benefits of daylight saving time are more pronounced in mild climates. The DOE study, for example, estimated that DST saves California about 1 percent of its energy bill daily.

Increase in Energy Consumption Theories

Critics of DST often focus on potential costs associated with routine time changes. These would include lost sleep, impacts on human health and crime rates, costs of adjusting mass transit schedules, hindering agricultural work, more traffic accidents, lower workplace productivity and putting a large segment of the population into a foul mood.

Studies have shown that the energy savings are significantly less than what models and projected analyses typically suggest should be the case. An Australian study from 2008, using observed data, found no energy savings, and perhaps a slight increase in energy use. A more recent analysis of energy use in Indiana, which adopted DST statewide in 2006, showed a full one-percent increase in energy usage.

When people get more light after work, there is an increase of evening traffic and this increases fuel consumption. This causes an increase in carbon dioxide and secondary pollutants, especially in photochemical pollutants: ozone (O3) and peroxy acetyl nitrate (PAN) in our warming climate.

Get Ready to Fall Back

Daylight Saving is scheduled to end at 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, November 5 for most of the United States. It's clear that DST does save electricity by reducing the amount of energy used for electric lighting. But, in addition it aligns our lives with the hottest part of the day, so people tend to use more air conditioning, and in late fall, when they wake up in the dark and they use more heating with no reduction in lighting needs. The net energy conservation comes down to the difference between electric light saved and extra heating/cooling consumed.

To learn how you can save energy during Daylight Saving Time, visit Energy Saver.

Check out lighting page to learn about ways to save electricity.


More about the author: Hardeep Kaur

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