Spring Forward; Fall Back.

28 Oct
With the purpose of reducing energy consumption, the Daylight Saving Time (DST), also known as Summer Time in some countries, is a practice that was first set forth by Benjamin Franklin during the late 1700’s when he insisted on the idea of French people rising early, completing their work throughout sunlight hours, and thereby reducing the amount of lamp oil used and candle money spent by calling it a day earlier. However, this idea wasn’t implemented until the early 1900’s in Europe during World War I (WWI), a few years after “London builder William Willett … proposed advancing clocks 20 minutes on each of four Sundays in April, and retarding them by the same amount on four Sundays in September.”
Back then, and after the approval of several acts relating to DST by the U.S. Parliament, the time established for changing the clocks was 2:00 a.m. on a Sunday. Nevertheless, the observance of this practice was soon revoked in the U.S. and employed again in the early years of World War II (WWII) for the period of the energy crisis in 1974 through a “double daylight saving time (2 hours ahead) during the summer months.” Finally, during the mid-1900’s the Uniform Time Act set forth the rules of regular DST all over the U.S. extending such period from the Sunday following the third Saturday in April until the first Sunday in October. This provision was later revised during the late 1900’s to change the DST period so that it would extend from the first Sunday of April until the last Sunday of October.

Even though the point in DST has been explained for years and may be obvious to most people, a great portion of the population still doesn’t get it. The rationale behind DST is to facilitate the adjustment of daylight hours with waking time and work hours so that the amount of artificial light needed in residences and the workplace can be reduced. As a result of this, the consumption of limited resources such as oil and coal is also reduced, which allows the world to simply conserve energy and make better use of daylight. This is so because the amount of human activity is greater in the early evening than in the early morning, so the shift forward in time during the period of the year with the most hours of daylight (late spring, summer and early fall) results for instance, in longer summer days, which means people save electric power since they will be home fewer hours or simply don’t need to use power until after the sun sets at night.

It has been proved that the energy reduction in the evening when people go to bed early outbalances the amount of electricity consumed by people who wake up before dawn. This wouldn’t be the case if the DST was not in place because early birds would still consume more energy in the morning without saving any energy in the evening resulting from the extended sunlight that DST entails. In other words, DST “saves energy for lighting in all seasons of the year, but it saves least during the four darkest months of winter (November, December, January, and February,) when the afternoon advantage is offset by the need for lighting because of late sunrise.”

Although the “power use in the commercial and institutional sectors … tends to be more or less constant throughout the day,” DST has been shown to save about 1% of electricity every day in the U.S., which is a small but significant quantity when we take into account that this percentage amount is equal to “100,000 barrels of oil per day.” In other countries the proportion of energy saved reaches the 3.5 and even 5%, “yet, the implementation of Daylight Saving Time has been fraught with controversy since Benjamin Franklin first conceived of the idea,” and outbreaks of confusion and resistance have made obvious that “not everyone is a fan.”

Ever since DST was first implemented, farmers have argued that the time shift gets in the way of their customary work schedule, IT professionals have been worried about technical malfunctioning, and authorities have mentioned “that energy is not always saved.” Furthermore, some complaints have been filed regarding the increase in sleep disorders due to difficulties in adjusting to new sleep schedules, the increment in accidents, and the inconvenience of changing clocks. Other arguments revolve around the increase in oil consumption due to people running errands and visiting relatives during the early evenings of long summer days and those using their air conditioning (AC) devices at their homes for extended periods of time on warm summer afternoons.

Moreover, some people propose leaving the time alone and having darker mornings rather than earlier darker afternoons during winter, reasoning that if “it stayed lighter longer, we would use less energy to light up our homes,” but what they fail to consider is that what we called the “’Normal’ time is the way we set our clocks in winter — when it gets dark in the late afternoon (5:00 PM or earlier).” This means that we actually apply the DST not during winter, but spring, when we set our clocks an hour forward, which allows us “to sleep in until 6:00 AM and not be awakened by the sun at 5:00.” During spring, the days tend to be longer and the sun rises earlier, let’s say at 5:00 AM, but since we shift time an hour ahead, it will then be 6:00 AM when the sun rises. During this time of the year we have more light both in the morning and in the early evening, but since we need most of the daylight during nights, we shift that hour from morning to night.

Although the main idea behind DST is to save priceless energy, an extra public health benefit to DST has been recognized, as it is “supposed to lower the incidents of traffic accidents and crime, and boost the morale of people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder;” this is supported by several American and British studies revealing that the net number of traffic incidents during DST (evening hours) is reduced by almost 1%, which offsets the smaller increase in accidents occurred during dark winter mornings. In addition, and due to the shifting of one daylight hour from morning to evening, individuals have also more daylight time and sunny summer evenings to enjoy from outdoor activities after work or school.

Different latitudes have different DST clock-change dates, and some countries are not affected by this practice. For instance, there is no DST in India, Japan, and China, and countries near the tropic and the equator are also immune to DST since “day and night are nearly the same length (12 hours)” all year round; however, those countries that are closer to The Poles tend to have longer daylight periods during the summer season.

In the European Union (EU) DST starts the last Sunday in March at 2:00 AM (GMT time), and it ends at 2:00 AM the last Sunday in October (it was today for me,) and the change in all time zones in the union occur at the same instant following the 1996 DST regularization. In the States, the traditional DST as established under the Uniform Time Act has been recently changed with the endorsement of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which states that beginning 2007, the U.S. DST will begin at 2:00 AM and extend from the second Sunday in March (rather than the first in April) and will revert to standard time on the first Sunday in November (rather than the usual last in October.) Unlike in the EU, “in the U.S., each time zone switches at a different time,” and the implications of the new DST seem to be varied.

The new U.S. proposal for extending the DST is assumed to save further energy based on the previous 1975 study yielding the 1% power saving. However, some officials have argued that the study is not only outdated but also inconclusive and that it “failed to consider the net energy impact of extending DST into March.” More recent studies examining the effects of undertaking DST three weeks earlier this year on energy consumption have concluded that such practice is likely to yield only modest improvements on energy conservation, traffic safety and crime prevention. For this reason, “Congress retains the right to revert to the by-now traditional American DST schedule” after the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) completes a study on the net energy impact of extending DST and reveals whether the overall results show a “peak electricity use by shifting some electricity consumption from the high-demand evening hours to lower-demand – and, incidentally, cheaper – morning hours.”

In Canada, some controversy emerged since in certain regions, extending the DST as suggested by the U.S. would possibly call for the amendment of existing provincial laws, as would be the case in Quebec. Canadian authorities initially refused the proposal by claiming that “extending DST by four weeks is unlikely to significantly alter energy consumption patterns in this country” since in some cities such as Ontario “the sun would have set by the time most people get home, even with DST.” Nevertheless, and considering the interrelation and integration of both the U.S. and Canadian economies, Canada decided to follow the U.S. lead this year and adopt the American DST policy.

Some countries observe DST and some others do not, and “throughout history there have been several variants on this, such as half adjustment (30 minutes) or double adjustment (two hours), and adjustments of 20 and 40 minutes have also been used.” Each country or region observes DST it in a different way as it was the case with the extended DST in the U.S. and Canada this year, so although the future of DST can’t be predicted, this practice works and it does save energy.

“Just as sunflowers turn their heads to catch every sunbeam, so too have we discovered a simple way to get more from our sun.”

Image by: Jenny Rollo @ Stock.Xchng


Posted by on October 28, 2007 in conservation, DST, energy, history, office, power, savings, time, work


2 responses to “Spring Forward; Fall Back.

  1. Anonymous

    November 2, 2007 at 14:06

    consider more than just energy usage as an impact from extended DST. Making children wait for school buses in the dark is a safety concern that fdar outweighs the loosely identified and contentious energy savings.

  2. *·.·•¢Hè©h!•·.·*

    November 2, 2007 at 14:37

    Well, we would have to do some research on that and see if the numbers really show that DST’s impact posts a safety concern. I guess the fact that DST remains in place says something about it.


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