A while after I woke up Sunday at the crack of dawn (i.e. what I thought was 9 A.M.), I realized I should get a move on ASAP. My clock was wrong and Daylight Saving Time had begun earlier that morning at 2; it was really 10 A.M. (according to my state of residence, at least).
Then, during my Monday morning commute, along with the rest of Boston I found myself unusually tired and asking no one in particular: Why do we still do this Daylight Savings thing? And how does it affect energy use?
Even the words with which I asked that first question reveal my utter ignorance of the Daylight Saving tradition. I had always thought that someone came up with “Daylight Savings Time” because it was good for farmers’ schedules. But it’s not called “Daylight Savings” Time, or “Daylight Savings” – but “Daylight Saving Time, or “Daylight-Saving Time” – and farmers have historically opposed it. Sources reveal, interestingly, that “Daylight savings” refers to the possible electricity and energy “savings” that are thought to result from observing DST.
Not everyone agrees on the primary reason we still set the clocks forward (and behind, in fall) in 2014. Most noticeably, anyway, when we “Spring Ahead” our evenings have more daylight and it’s darker in the morning – lending us more light to do the dishes, play sports after school, ride the train home, etc. But does DST help reduce US energy consumption?
Daylight Saving Time was first put in practice in 1916 by Germany and Austria-Hungary, although it is believed that Benjamin Franklin conceived of the idea to “save candles.” Since 1916, people all over the world have observed DST – but it has been used most consistently since the 1970s energy crises when economies of the world’s largest industrial nations grappled with petroleum shortages and higher prices.
However, despite its continuing prevalence in the lives of most Americans, National Geographic News reports that, “Contrary to popular belief, no federal rule mandates that states or territories observe daylight saving time.” Arizona, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the US Virgin Islands have chosen not to.
Are those states and territories in the wrong? Are they undermining a large-scale, historically effective, American effort to reduce our consumption of energy?
Another supposed function of Daylight Saving Time (besides adjusting daylight hours to when most people have things to do) is to reduce our evening use of artificial (primarily incandescent) lighting. In past blog posts, we’ve discussed the problems with those inefficient energy suckers we call incandescents. But even though experiencing longer daylight hours may mean that we are able to keep from turning on lamps outfitted with incandescent (and now, increasingly CFL and LED) bulbs later into the evening, that doesn’t take into account the energy we use to heat and cool our houses – which is also supposedly affected by DST.
Research seeking to find out if DST really saves energy is commonly described as limited and contradictory. The Scientific American reports that during the 1970s oil crisis, “the US Department of Transportation found that daylight saving trimmed national electricity usage by roughly 1 percent compared with standard time.” And then other, more contemporary studies (like one done by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Indiana) find that DST leads to a rise in energy use.
A recent opinion article on the website of The New York Times, written by Matthew Kotchen, who worked on the Indiana study, asserts that Daylight Saving Time, “reduces demand for residential lighting, yet increases demand for heating and especially cooling. So, while Benjamin Franklin’s argument still applies to lighting, the more important effect today comes from air conditioners.”
Not many Americans know the facts about Daylight Saving Time, and those who do, or are trying to figure them out, are divided along the question of energy savings.
Good for the planet or not, getting rid of DST altogether, like Tennessee, a state with two different time zones, is planning on doing, would be a big deal. We’ve always had to remember to change our watches, have always groaned about having to get up an hour earlier – have, year after year, stepped outside around five o’clock PM in early March to remark on the brightness of the lingering day.
Here at Aetna Corp., we’ll accept the extra hour of sunlight (if it does mean getting up what feels like a little earlier), and keep our eyes open for more conclusive evidence on the subject. You can join us in our unending search for more information, by visiting our Twitter, Facebook page, and website. Thanks for reading.