Does Daylight Saving Time Save Energy? That Policy Isn't Exactly Working Out

CALIPATRIA, CA - JULY 2: Pelicans fly to Mullet Island, one of the four Salton Buttes, small volcanoes on the southern San Andreas Fault, after sunset on July 2, 2011 near Calipatria, California. Mullet Island, the only place for many thousands of island nesting birds to breed at the Salton Sea, will become vulnerable to attacks by predators such as raccoons and coyotes if the water level drops just a couple more feet. Scientists have discovered that human-created changes effecting the Salton Sea appear to be the reason why California's massive 'Big One' earthquake is more than 100 years overdue and building up for the greatest disaster ever to hit Los Angeles and Southern California. Researchers found that strands of the San Andreas Fault under the 45-mile long rift lake have have generated at least five 7.0 or larger quakes about every 180 years. This ended in the early 20th century when authorities stopped massive amounts of Colorado River water from periodically flooding the into this sub-sea level desert basin. Such floods used to regularly trigger major quakes and relieve building seismic pressure but the last big earthquake on the southern San Andreas was about 325 years ago. Dangerous new fault branches that could trigger a 7.8 quake have recently been discovered under the Salton Sea. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Source: David McNew/Getty Images News/Getty Images

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, most Americans will be setting their clocks ahead by an hour. This allows us to enjoy an extra hour of sunlight on warm summer nights, making it easier to go to barbecues and spend evenings at baseball parks — all good, right? The actual intent of the policy of daylight saving time (DST) is to save energy costs, but studies show that this may not be the case. Actually, it may be creating other, more costly problems.

According to the History Channel, DST originated from an Englishman who spent his fortune lobbying the British Parliament to adopt a policy to maximize enjoyment of the sun during evening hours. He failed. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn't Ben Franklin's idea (he advocated for changing sleep schedules, not the altering actual time). The U.S. adopted DST in 1918 so that Americans would rely less on artificial light sources, decreasing overall energy consumption during WWI. 

The practice resumed during WWII, after which many states operated on different times, until The Uniform Time Act was implemented in 1966. States then had the option of adopting DST. Most did over the coming decades. Hawaii and Arizona remain the only states opting out of the time switch. 

So, what does the actual data say about this? In 2007, the U.S. began to observe DST for a few extra weeks. A 2008 study by the Department of Energy determined that electrical consumption of Americans decreased by one-third of one percent. 

There remains a lot of research refuting this. A study by the National Bureau of Economic Research determined that after Indiana adopted the policy of DST in 2006, the state experienced a one-percent increase in energy usage. And a experiment by university researchers at the Universities of Michigan and Washington determined that DST has a slight negative effect, if any at all, in reducing electrical consumption and green house gas emissions.

So, why is this happening? Especially since people have more hours of daylight for activities? The answer is simple: According to this experiment, people operate according to the clock, not sunrise and sunset. This was further confirmed by a survey administered by Bureau of Labor Statistics, which determined that more Americans sleep less and up earlier even when we practice DST, effectively using more electricity during those dark mornings. 

There are also major outside costs to DST. In The New York Times, Michael Downing, who has authored a book on the topic, argues the costs of daylight saving time — $150 million a year to airline companies, who are forced to reconcile scheduling problems with Europe. It's also problematic for observant Jews, who find it difficult to say the sunrise prayers at home. The danger for workers who lose sleep after the switch to DST has also been noted; a study published by Journal of Applied Psychology found that mining workers risked injury 3.6 times more the Monday after DST. Once standard time is resumed, there are no additional risks.

Image: Getty Images (1)

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