Notes of a Reporter at Large • 01-12-12 PDF  | Print |  E-mail
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Thursday, 12 January 2012 17:03

Does Daylight Savings Time Save Energy?

By Mel Lavine

Special to the Times


I suppose this is as good a time as any to talk about it – three weeks in from the winter solstice (December 21), the shortest day of the year.

Researchers in Sweden, analyzing data from 1987 to 2006, have found that when daylight was saved more lives were lost, but that in the autumn, the day after falling back, fewer lives were lost.

According to the findings, heart attacks increased by 6% the day following the “spring forward” to Daylight Savings Time. Contrarily, in autumn, the days after “falling back,” Swedes had 5 percent fewer attacks.

An hypothesis drawn from the investigation is that “waking up earlier has an adverse effect on some people.” Or stating it another way, “vulnerable people might benefit from avoiding sudden changes in biologic rhythm.”

As we make our annual trek towards daylight saving time, so do many ask, does it save energy? The question has been asked since World War I when DST was  first put into practice in Germany.

The Lady Friend probably speaks for many when she maintains that the switch gets her confused, throws her off her rhythm. “I don’t like it. I never believed it saved energy.”

A study by University of California researchers at Santa Barbara in 2008 said much the same. Their research showed “surprisingly little evidence that DST actually saved energy...on electricity consumption in the U.S. since the mid-1970s.”

“Our main finding,” wrote Mathew J. Kotchen and Laura E. Grant, “is that – contrary to the policy’s intent – DST increases residential electricity demand.” Not by much – estimates of increase are about 1 percent – but DST is the culprit for the increase.

The researchers credit Benjamin Franklin, the all-American sage,  with making the discovery in 1784 that people were sleeping during sunlit hours in the early morning and burning candles for lights in the evening – a penny-wise and pound foolish lifestyle. He believed that if people adapted to starting earlier in the day in summer, when the day is longest, they could save on tallow and wax.

Franklin even playfully proposed firing cannons to wake up people at dawn and a tax on window shutters.

Were Franklin around today, it’s not likely – whatever the research on daylight saving times says – that he would change a word of the prescription he wrote for the good life in 1773 in his Poor Richard’s Almanac:

“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”  DST or No DST.

Mel Lavine was a television producer for many years with NBC News and CBS News in New York. Contact him at his e-mail address: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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