Does Daylight Saving Time save energy?

The short answer is that the verdict is still out.

The idea

Benjamin Franklin is often credited with the idea of Daylight Saving Time in 1784. But it wasn’t until the oil embargoes of the 1970s that measures were adopted at the national level in an attempt to cut down on the amount of fuel needed to power the country. Back then, government studies showed that the plan was capable of cutting national electricity use by roughly one percent every day. In recent years, these clear cut findings have been called into question.

How does changing the clocks reduce energy consumption?

In the spring, we turn our clocks ahead and gain an additional hour of daylight in the evening. For those of us with fairly constant schedules, this means that our evening routines will require artificial lighting for one less hour than they do during the winter months. The closer the match between our demand for heating and lighting and that naturally provided by the sun, the less energy we’ll use.

Two sides of the same coin

A number of recent studies have tried to deliver definitive data on what Daylight Saving means for energy use, but the results have been mixed at best.

Delivering an accurate assessment isn’t quite as easy as measuring variation in electricity throughout the year. The length of the day varies regardless of whether we change the clocks. And might our increased evening usage be offset by that extra hour of daylight in the morning?

Further complicating matters is the fact that during the months when daylight extends well into the evening, Americans spend a great deal more time out and about burning up gasoline, which begs the question of just how much our energy savings at home are worth. This and other behavioral changes like the corresponding increase in air-conditioning usage during the warm months makes it difficult to separate fact from fiction.

Here to stay

The argument that providing an extra hour of daylight in the evening during the darkest months of the year still has significant traction among policymakers, making it likely that DST won’t be repealed any time soon. What’s more, advocates point to the reductions in crime and traffic fatalities to in support of the program’s continued existence.

So, as you prepare to set your clocks back this November 7, think about whether Daylight Saving brings you anything more than an extra hour of sleep (which you’ll have to give back in the spring).


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