Spring forward to save energy? Not so fast…

When the time comes, people around the world turn their clocks an hour ahead come the springtime and turn them back again when autumn arrives. This is because of daylight saving time, an idea first introduced centuries ago by Benjamin Franklin.

The history of daylight saving time

When daylight saving time, or DST, was first introduced, much of what people did in their daily lives was governed by sunlight — as it was difficult to do anything once the sun set. Franklin felt the country could be more productive if everyone rose earlier to maximize daytime. In the summer, pushing the clocks ahead allowed people to work longer into the evening.

But Franklin’s idea was not officially implemented until much later, when it was instituted during World War I to save money on electricity and devote more money to coal during the time of war.

DST was repealed during peacetime, but implemented again during World War II and once again during the 1973 oil embargo. Today, more than 70 countries participate in DST, many of which do so because they believe it helps to save money on electricity. In the United States, Arizona and Hawaii do not participate.

Energy usage

Despite all of the hype surrounding DST and its financial impact, a 1975 U.S. Department of Transportation Study indicated that DST has a relatively insignificant impact on electricity usage. A 2008 study conducted in the state of Indiana compared electricity use before and after the state adopted DST. The results indicated a 1 percent increase in residential electricity use after DST was implemented.

Various governments and scientists continue to look at the practice of DST to see if it has any measurable benefits. Some medical studies indicate that DST can disrupt sleeping patterns, leading to added stress on the body and an increased risk of heart attack.

But DST has its supporters as well, and individuals can take their own steps to curb electricity usage throughout the year:

  • Tailor your schedule to the daylight hours. Rise when the sun rises and go to bed when the sun sets to reduce your reliance on electricity.
  • Only use lights in the rooms you’re occupying. Turn off electrical appliances and fixtures when you leave the room.
  • Spend more time outdoors, grilling outside and dining on the patio.
  • Use appliances during off-peak hours to save money on energy costs.
  • Open the windows on cooler days to keep interior spaces at a comfortable temperature.
  • Rely on sunlight as much as possible, opening curtains and blinds to let more light into your home.
  • Adjust the thermostat on HVAC systems to keep the system off when you’re not at home.
  • Reduce reliance on electrical forms of entertainment, such as televisions, computers, tablets, and gaming systems.

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