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CON: Daylight saving time doesn't reduce energy consumption

By Sonny Long
March 14, 2010 at 10:03 p.m.
Updated March 13, 2010 at 9:14 p.m.


Daylight saving time does not save energy as was its original intent, say some who have studied the time change.

The change, especially in the spring, can also lead to sleep deprivation that could increase traffic accidents and workplace injuries, some researchers have found.

A study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research in 2008 found that "contrary to the policy's intent - DST increases the residential electricity demand. Estimates of the overall increase are approximately 1 percent."

The extensive study by researchers Matthew J. Kotchen and Laura E. Grant consisted of 7 million observations on monthly billing data for a vast majority of households in southern Indiana for three years.

The study also concluded that "the effect is likely to be even stronger in other regions of the United States."

In Victoria, one power company has not experienced any significant energy savings for its customers during DST.

"The time changes don't really change the electric demand. If anything, a time change might shift the load either earlier or later depending on whether its spring forward or fall back," said Elgin R. Janssen of the Community Affairs office of AEP Texas in Victoria.

"The particular times of peak usage or lower usage will shift because of the time change, but it won't affect total electric demand or consumption, at least not at a noticeable amount," Janssen said.

The change to daylight saving time, especially the first day of the change in the spring, can also increase traffic accidents, according to one researcher.

Psychologist Stanley Coren's study, originally reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1998, showed a 7 percent increase in traffic accidents the day after DST and a 7 percent decrease in accidents in the fall when the clocks return to standard time.

"We're all sleep deprived anyway so that extra loss (of sleep) you experience is enough to lead to an accident," Coren said in an article in Self-help Magazine.

Other scientific studies add fuel to the fire against daylight saving time.

A 2008 report of a study by Swedish researchers, also in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that incidences of heart attacks increased significantly for the first three weekdays after the transition to daylight saving time in the spring.

"The most plausible explanation for the findings is the adverse effect of sleep deprivation on cardiovascular health," according to the study.

Health issues and on the job safety also concerns others who have studied DST.

In a 2009 study published in the the Journal of Applied Psychology, researchers Christopher M. Barnes and David T. Wagner, propose that their study indicates changing to daylight saving time cuts into sleep and increases workplace injuries.

"One hour of lost sleep may not seem like a lot. But our findings suggest it could have an impact on people's ability to stay alert on the job and prevent serious injuries," said Barnes.

Someone else who has studied daylight saving time, Michael Downing, author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time, thinks that the idea that more daylight equals energy savings is misguided.

"I'm certainly not a fan of the idea that it saves energy," Downing said in an interview with National Public Radio. "It turns out that every time Congress has studied it, it's been told that we haven't saved anything."

"Here's the problem with daylight saving as an energy saver: We tend to want our computers and our televisions and our radios when we want them," added Downing.

"More importantly, daylight saving really pushed Americans out of the house at the end of the day. And when Americans go out of the house, they may go to the ballpark, they may go to the mall, but they don't walk there. They get into their cars," said Downing. "Daylight saving increased gasoline consumption, something the petroleum industry has known since 1930."

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