Does Daylight Saving Time Save Energy?

by April Siese

Daylight Saving Time (DST) is almost over for the year. Come 2 a.m. on Sunday, Nov. 1, clocks around the country will move back one hour. Just Hawaii and a majority of Arizona (save for the Navajo Nation) don't observe DST, which is relatively unsurprising given just how sunny the two states are. Allowing for sunnier days supposedly means less artificial light usage, thereby making the population more energy-efficient. But does Daylight Saving Time actually save energy?

Research shows negligible energy efficiency, if any. According to a 2008 natural study in Indiana of DST's efficacy, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that energy use actually increased by 1 percent after statewide DST was implemented in 2006. That number increased to as much as 4 percent during the tail end of summer and the start of fall. Last year, research co-author and Yale economist Matthew Kotchen took to The New York Times to voice his frustration with the misconception that DST is saving the country substantial amounts of energy:

Readers and policy makers should keep in mind that despite its intended effect, a growing body of evidence reveals that daylight saving time increases rather than decreases energy consumption. There are certainly benefits, but energy savings is not one of them.
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But Indiana is just one small section of the country and may not necessarily reflect the overall energy savings the rest of America may be experiencing. At least, that's what a federally mandated study released the very same year by the U.S. Department of Energy seems to suggest. According to the report, half a percent of energy has been saved per day thanks to DST, which was extended by four weeks in 2007 following the implementation of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Likewise, the changes were cumulative rather than consistent, with the most significant energy consumption reduction occurring in the spring, specifically in the evening. Energy consumption actually increased in the mornings, however.

This finding is consistent with a 2007 Australia study in which Victoria extended their DST while South Australia opted not to during the 2000 Olympics. The findings are vastly different, however. Because of their consistently darker mornings, Victorians tended to heavily use electricity as they woke up, essentially negating the benefit of a longer, sunnier evening. Psychologists suggest that DST may not be to blame for its own negligible effects but rather people's subtle shift in behavior that adds up to a whole lot on a national level. According to a 2014 Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization paper, those surveyed between 2003 and 2011 indicated that they sleep around 20 minutes less during DST. That translates into more awake hours and therefore more energy usage.

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If energy usage is the highest in the morning and people are already not getting enough rest to begin with, perhaps DST can bring about a new national past time of sleeping in to save the planet.