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Daylight Savings Time: Does putting the clocks forward help reduce energy consumption?

The US Senate has just voted to get rid of clock changes, making Daylight Savings Time permanent.
The US Senate has just voted to get rid of clock changes, making Daylight Savings Time permanent. Copyright Charlie Riedel/AP
Copyright Charlie Riedel/AP
By Rosie Frost
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Clock changes were originally introduced to save energy, but the results have been inconclusive ever since. Now some countries are looking to get rid of them entirely.

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Daylight Savings Time could become permanent in the US if one Senator gets his way. 

The Sunshine Protection Act passed the Senate last year with no opposition but stalled once it reached the House of Representatives. 

Permanent Daylight Savings Time, which usually begins in March and ends in November, would mean clocks no longer change back and forth twice a year, establishing a fixed time all year round.

Now Florida Senator Marco Rubio has reintroduced the bill to get rid of what he calls an "antiquated practice".

"This ritual of changing time twice a year is stupid," he said in a statement.

"Locking the clock has overwhelming bipartisan and popular support. This congress, I hope that we can finally get this done." 

Why was Daylight Savings Time introduced in the US?

Daylight Savings Time was introduced in the US during World War I in an effort to cut energy consumption when fuel was scarce. The idea was that, during summer months, daylight hours would shift into the evening so people didn’t have to turn their lights on until later.

After the war ended, it was abandoned and then adopted again during World War II when fuel supplies were running low. Some places kept it after the war, others didn’t until, finally, the US federal government mandated that all states had to implement daylight savings in 1966.

Two states, Hawaii and Arizona, still opted out, and have continued not to change their clocks since then.

Does Daylight Savings Time reduce energy consumption?

So did it really reduce energy consumption?

A study conducted by the US Department of Transportation in 1975 showed that Daylight Savings cut around 1 per cent of the country’s energy usage.

This insignificant saving might, in part, be because many people in the US get out of bed before 7am, So much of the energy saved by not having the lights on in the evening is offset by having them on in the morning.

ANDREW COWIE/AFP
Science Museum conservator Richard Horton adjusts the clocks during a photo call ahead of the winter time change at the museum's Measuring Time Gallery in central London.ANDREW COWIE/AFP

In New Zealand, energy companies found similar results with electricity usage falling by 3.5 per cent when Daylight Savings began.

A recent study looked at the impact daylight saving could have on office energy consumption by the year 2050 under different climate scenarios. It simulated buildings across 15 different cities to discover that shifting clocks back and forward resulted in a net decrease in energy consumption even as the world warms up. 

But it also found that this depended on the location and the availability of renewable energy

Research has also shown that while it might decrease the time the lights are on, it could also increase the amount of energy we use to heat and cool our homes. Overall, the answers are inconclusive and any energy savings caused by Daylight Savings Time were found to be insignificant.

Will Europe ever get rid of Daylight Savings Time?

The story is similar in Europe. In the UK and Germany, Daylight Savings Time was introduced to conserve coal in World War I. It was abolished when the war ended but returned during the 1980s when the necessity to save returned, driven by the global oil crisis.

Since 2002, all countries in the European Union - except for Iceland - have had to adjust their clocks on the last Sunday of March and October.

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But in 2018, the European Parliament voted to get rid of twice-a-year clock changes. It came after a poll of 4.6 million EU citizens showed strong support for scrapping it.

Brexit also complicated the matter with the potential for there to be different times in the Republic of Ireland and British-governed Northern Ireland.

After the vote was passed, the change was passed on to the European Council to be implemented. But it said that it couldn’t get rid of Daylight Savings Time without an impact assessment from the European Commission. 

The changes were meant to come in by 2021 but the debate on who was responsible ended with a stalemate just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Brexit also complicated the matter with the potential for there to be different times in the Republic of Ireland and British-governed Northern Ireland.

At the moment there doesn’t seem to be sufficient support for the European Commission’s proposal and at this point, it’s unclear when, if ever, the EU will get rid of Daylight Savings Time.

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