Daylight saving time: Can springing ahead save energy or money?

Daylight saving time 2013 starts 2 a.m. Sunday, with much of America turning the clock ahead one hour. But when does daylight saving time save money?

Tourneau/PRNewsFoto/File
The entrance to Tourneau, a watch retailer in New York, 'sprang forward' a year ago when daylight saving time took hold across much of America.

At 2 a.m. this Sunday, most people in the United States will move their clocks an hour ahead to 3 a.m. In theory, that slight nudge conserves energy. In practice, it seems daylight saving time hardly saves energy at all.

In some cases, it actually increases energy consumption.

In Indiana, daylight saving time caused a 1 percent jump in electricity, according to a 2010 study. The energy saved from reduced lighting was canceled out by an increase in the use of heating and air conditioning, the researchers from Yale University and University of California Santa Barbara said.

The shift in time means people wake up long before the warming sun appears in the colder months, and get home nearer to the hottest hour of the day during the warmer months. 

It goes against conventional wisdom, first espoused by the king of aphorism himself, Benjamin Franklin. On a 1784 trip to Paris, the Founding Father observed the perils of sleeping well into daylight and wasting precious candle wax and lighting oil throughout the darkening eve.

Since lighting accounts for about 12 percent of residential US electricity consumption today, it might follow that Franklin’s wisdom would still hold true. But heating and air conditioning are the new energy hogs – combining to account for nearly half of household consumption. 

The US Energy Policy Act of 2005 doubled down on the energy-saving theory by extending the daylight saving period by a month. Two years later the Department of Energy studied the effects of the expansion. 

What did they find?

Total electricity savings from the extended daylight saving period amounted to 1.3 terawatt-hours, or 0.03 percent of electricity consumption over the year.Those weak savings are one reason why 5,253 people, as of Thursday, have signed a White House online petition seeking to eliminate the tradition. 

“Daylight Savings Time is an archaic practice in our modern society,” the petition reads. 

The request needs 100,000 signatures by April 4 to warrant an official response from the White House. The petitioners cite related health issues and reduced workplace productivity as additional reasons for ending daylight saving time.

“Also: It's really annoying,” the petitioners add.

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