When I was a paper boy back in the 1980s, I always hated daylight-saving time. Just when the mornings were finally starting to lighten after a long, dark winter, daylight-saving time came along and ruined everything: when clocks “spring” forward, the sunrise arrives one hour later. It would be several weeks before I’d be able to deliver my papers in the light. This weekend, daylight-saving time arrived even earlier than usual, thanks to a new law supposedly designed to save energy.
Since many people are still asleep while it’s light outside in the morning, the reasoning goes, all that light is wasted, and in the evenings when more people are awake, they use more energy because they must turn on lights. Daylight-savings time allows people to use natural light when they are actually awake. On the other hand, if it’s light later at night, then more people might be encouraged to go out — for shopping, exercise, and so on — and any energy saving might be lost. ABC news reports on a study suggesting another reason extending daylight saving time may not work:
Ryan Kellogg and Hendrik Wolff compared electric demand in the state of Victoria, which extended DST, with its next-door neighbor, South Australia, which did not.
“Our results show that the extension failed to conserve electricity,” they wrote.
“If it’s dark enough in the morning that pretty much everyone has to turn on the lights,” said co-author Kellogg, “what that means is that that increase in morning electricity consumption is going to be so big that it offsets any benefits we get from the extra light in the evening.”
In fact, the two said, shifting Australians’ clocks led to a tiny increase in power use.
A Scientific American article also casts doubt on the notion that daylight-saving time helps conserve much energy:
Some studies dispute the energy savings would be as great. A recent analysis by the California Energy Commission, for instance, concluded that the change would shift&rather than reduce–electricity use to off peak hour. The report said that electricity use could dip by 0.5 percent–or less. A shift to off peak electricity use still has the advantage of lowering the capacity requirements for utilities, but it’s questionable whether the savings would be as much as the ACEEE estimates.
I don’t deliver papers any more, but it’s still a little depressing to wake up every morning in darkness. The department of Energy is charged with monitoring this new change in policy to see whether the energy savings are real (the law will be repealed if there are no savings). For the sake of groggy paper boys across the country, I hope they aren’t.