Daylight Saving Time does not save energy

The Cost of Daylight Saving Time
The golf industry claims that an additional month of daylight has meant more time on the links and an additional $400 million in revenue, reports Michael Downing. Credit: Ingimage

With the switchover to daylight saving time just around the corner, you might wonder why we go to the trouble of springing forward and falling backward every year.

It turns out that more daylight gives us more time to shop, drive, grill and perfect our golf game. What it doesn't do is cut our energy use, as is the intent, says Michael Downing, a lecturer in English and author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time.

In fact, when we lose an hour's sleep at 2 a.m. on March 9—beginning the eight-month DST season—it will not reduce our electricity use even by one half of 1 percent, says Downing, contrary to the most recent study by the Department of Energy.

While the government continues to claim that the country reduces electricity use for each day during DST, Downing says we come nowhere near that. Some studies do report small reductions in electricity use, but the most comprehensive study of household energy demand and many others report an increase in overall energy consumption ranging from 1 to 4 percent during DST.

"The barbeque grill and charcoal industries say they gain $200 million in sales with an extra month of daylight saving—and they were among the biggest lobbies in favor of extending DST from six to seven months in 1986," he says. Lobbying alongside them that year was the golf industry, which says that additional month of daylight has meant more time on the links and an additional $400 million in revenue.

The Cost of Daylight Saving Time
“Every time the government studies [DST], it turns out that we are really saving nothing when all is said and done,” says Michael Downing. Credit: Melody Ko

But what's good for retail is bad for overall energy use, says Downing. "If it's light when we leave work and we decide to go to the mall or a restaurant or head for a summer night at the beach, we don't walk there; we get in our cars," he says.

Gas consumption goes up during —"something the gas industry has known since the 1930s," Downing says. That's why it lobbied hard to reintroduce DST after two short-term experiments with it to conserve electricity and other energy resources during World Wars I and II.

But more driving also means more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which exacerbates climate change, says Downing. Moreover, the reduced cost of indoor lighting on sunny spring and summer afternoons is offset by higher air-conditioning costs at offices, factories and shopping malls.

"Every time the government studies [DST], it turns out that we are really saving nothing when all is said and done," Downing says.

And yet, at the urging of many industry lobbies, the government has extended the duration of DST several times. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Uniform Time Act, which instituted daylight saving time, beginning on the last Sunday of April and ending the last Sunday of October—six months in all. This act standardized customs that varied from state to state between 1945 and 1966.

Then in 1986, the federal law was amended to add a full month to DST, making it begin the first, not the last, Sunday in April. "This change was spurred by a large number of lobbies: golf and golf equipment, home improvement, the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association and the gas and fuel industries, which saw a potential boon to their sales," Downing says. "There was little concern for those living in western parts of each time zone, where sunrise could be as late as 8:30 a.m. some months.

"This standardized time change was no favor to farmers, who now had an hour less of morning light to milk their cows and get their goods ready for market, let alone for commuters or children waiting for school buses in the dark," he says.

In 2005, seven months of DST became eight with the passage of the Energy Policy Act, which moved the start date to the second Sunday of March and ended it a week later, on the first Sunday in November. The change from the end of October to early November was not driven by energy savings, but by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), who wanted Halloween to occur during DST.

"It gave the children more time to trick or treat and eat more candy," Downing says. Of course, in addition to Snickers bars, Americans buy 80 percent of their gasoline at convenience stores, and the NACS credits that extra month of daylight saving with a $1 billion increase in annual sales.

"So today we have eight months of daylight saving and only four months of standard time," he says. "Can you tell me which time is the standard?"

Commercial upsides aside, Downing offers that daylight saving time does do something good for the soul: "It may be based on a myth of energy saving, but who wants to give up enjoying those long, warm summer nights?"

Explore further

Study: Daylight saving time a waste of energy

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Mar 05, 2014
Hmmm. So the initiative to enact an energy savings measure inadvertently legislated more leisure time instead, augmenting our inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness and subverting the original intent of the legislation. I suppose that evens out to a plus.(fuzzy math)

The obvious drawback to intentional daylight savings time is that the extra hour of sunlight contributes to the heating of the earth which is undeniable evidence for anthropic global warming.

By the way, during the Daylight Savings time shift weekend I start setting my clocks ahead/behind 5 minutes every 4 hours on Friday night until I reach 60 minutes on Sunday. It reduces the impact of the change. I hope this is of help to someone.


Mar 05, 2014
Three pillars of the modern corporatist way of doing things in one manifestation. Something "looking good on paper" being deceitfully sold by "experts" as unquestionably so in reality; big money interests promoting the alteration in society; "government" lying and saying the change in the societal order really is working as they predicted it would. Reminiscent of things from "If you have a massive military, a plurality infected with psychopathic jingoism, and a government with a sociopathic willingness to wage war and no one will take action against you, even for your crimes", to, "Marijuana dulls your soul and mind so you can't care about anything around you, so what can possibly be wrong with embracing it for recreational use?", to, "Under mandated consumption it's expected that everyone will have 'health' insurance, so that means the problem of people not being able to afford 'health' insurance has been solved!"

Mar 05, 2014
To me this is a good thing. I like to go kayaking after work and its really not possible if its getting dark at 7:30pm.
I wonder why the advertisement industry isn't protesting this- every hour spent outside the home is an hour not spent watching tv or clicking on pop-ups.

Mar 05, 2014
The idea of daylight saving time was first conceived by Benjamin Franklin in 1784 during his stay in Paris. He published an essay titled "An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light" that proposed to economize the use of candles by rising earlier to make use of the morning sunlight.

Mar 05, 2014
How about this compromise change the time by 1/2 hr to between DST and Normal time and leave it there for good.

Daylight savings time has KILLED, injured, millions (during the days just after the time change). It's time to change this stupid practice.

Mar 05, 2014
Did the book author do any research?

"According to Congressional Research, daylight saving was originally put in place to give people more daylight hours to work and do other activities. Conceived by Benjamin Franklin in 1784 at the time when he was Minister to France, Franklin felt it was only natural that when it was dark outside, more people would be sleeping and that extending daytime hours according to season would increase productivity"

Sure farmers had an hours less in the morning to milk cows by sunlight but who needs sunlight for that. I think they'd rather have to extra hours to harvest crops.

Mar 05, 2014
As I was taught, interceptor is correct. DST was to aid in agriculture.
I recall that in response to the OPEC oil embargo, DST was suspended to save energy thus helping to mute the impact of said embargo. I also recall being in school at least 90 minutes prior to sunrise during such time. So yeah, it was known then that DST costs added fuel consumption.

Mar 06, 2014
My problem with DST is that I stay up later and get an hour less sleep. More fun but more drowsyness.

Mar 06, 2014
Barbecue grill and golf industry??? That so many should experience discomfort and inconvenience and as freethinking pointed out, death, just to provide greater income to the barbecue grill and golf industry is venal.

I'd suggest we just take this creeping DST extension and simply make it year around right now and have done with it. But then I can easily imagine the industry PACs pushing some new "daylight savings savings time" (DSST) the following year.

Mar 06, 2014
Hey freethinking, DST has saved the lives of many children out trick or treating in the early evening of Hallowe'en because it is still light out. As well, one could argue that lives are saved with drivers coming home from work in the evening as visibility is better.
Worries about DST and the early morning commutes are specious as the days are longer in that time od year.

Mar 06, 2014
I've always thought we shouold just keep DST all year.
Why make it get light earlier in the morning when a majority of people are asleep when you could keep it light an hour later in the evening instead, at a time when people can actually make use of the daylight.

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