Who Wants Daylight Savings Time — and Why?

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Most of us here in the US just lost an hour this weekend because of Daylight Savings Time. This annual clock-advancing used to happen late in April but has been extended a couple of times in the past few decades. It now gets light later in the morning and stays light later in the evening. Why do we do it?

Benjamin Franklin proposed the idea centuries ago as a way of saving candles. One of the modern motivations has been to save energy. But does it? A Scientific American article from 2009 reviewed some of the research on this topic, and it seems to be a wash. The best opportunity to study potential energy savings associated with changing our clocks came in 2006 when Indiana first went on Daylight Savingst Time statewide. They found that residential energy use went up. Why do we do it?

The Scientific American article discussed a US Department of Energy study of utility data that showed savings from the time change. But that was just electricity. What do the results look like when you factor in the extra driving people do because of more evening daylight? I think the energy saving benefits of Daylight Savings Time probably aren't enough to support keeping it. So, why do we do it?

Who benefits from this semiannual clock changing? Golf courses and other outdoor recreation participants and businesses certainly do. Night owls benefit because they don't sleep through as much daylight in the morning. I don't mind having an extra hour of daylight in the evening, but I'd rather have that hour in the morning. I'm still wondering, why do we do it?

And why is Michael Downing so worked up about it? He's a fiction writer who said in an interview with Rachel Maddow, "There aren't many things I've been doing this long that I don't understand." He got so caught up in the issue that he wrote a whole book about it, Spring Forward. He wants more people to ask the question, why do we do it?

Beyond that, what would happen if we didn't have Daylight Savings Time? The farmers would love having that extra hour of daylight back so they'd have more time to get crops harvested and off to market before the business day starts. Also, we'd join our friends in Arizona and Hawaii, who don't bother changing their clocks.  And maybe have fewer heart attacks, too.

So, why do we change our clocks twice a year?

Comments

Bob

It would be interesting how it affects peak use on the grid. Since large quantities of electricity cannot be efficiently stored managing peak use is a big challenge for utility companies.

Chris Kaiser

We do it so we can do weekday group bike rides earlier in the year! Smyrna Bicycles ride starts tonight at 6:15! Woo Hoo!!!!!  
 
Other than that, I love the idea. I'd much rather have more daylight in the evening when I can relax, rather than when everyone is trying to get ready for work.

Peter Troast

I grilled dinner in daylight last night, shifting my food heating source from trucked in propane to trucked in chunk charcoal. At least, I suppose, I got the CO out of the house. But the pain of trying to get two teenagers out of bed this morning? A steep price.

John Mattson

No real effect on farmers. Farmers do not watch clocks, they watch the sun. WHY not do what farmers do, and adjust activities by the season? Change school start time if it really improves child safety. Problem with DST is that one size does NOT fit all.

M. Johnson

I used to work in the department of a utility which studied usage patterns, and nobody ever spoke of gain or loss in usage (KWH energy, or KW demand) due to this cause. Maybe because it was not one of the things we could possibly control, daylight savings time (DST) was taken as a given. 
 
The peak demand generally occurs in the 4-5pm hour in Texas, and correlates with air conditioning load. I imagine DST encourages people to stay out longer, and predict there would be a tiny net savings in AC load because some houses adjust their thermostats when people get home. Of course that implies more driving and non-electric energy use. I do believe the difference with DST will be somewhere in the 3rd or smaller decimal place of the total. I agree with those who think it is less than significant.

Matt Klein

I take an opposite view. Why don't we just stay in DST year around?

Colin Genge

DST may be one of the stupidest things we do. Why we need to move our clocks in order to start the day at a different time, baffles me. Why not just have summer hours? 
 
 
 
Consider the work we go to to have DST. We do business all over Europe who all start and stop DST at different times or not at all. Most of us have about 12 clocks that need to be changed and some of mine are difficult to change so I keep them on real time and "remember" they are set wrong for DST. How inefficient is that for my remaining and flagging brain power? Then, the Southern hemisphere DST is 6 months out of sync with ours.  
 
 
 
Please STOP the insanity. If we really wanted to change things we'd run the entire world on ZULU time or some common time allowing people to do whatever they wanted with their personal clocks but putting the entire world on the same time. And, while we are at it, get rid of Minutes and so on. Change it all to Days which is a natural unit of time. We would then quote time in millidays. I will meet you at: 
 
2012-07-05-500 which is half a day into July 5/2012 at the International Date Line. Unfortunately, we sitll have those pesky months. This would also fix such ambiguities as: 
 
12-11-10 
 
which could be: 
 
2012-11-10 
 
or 
 
2010-11-12 
 
or 
 
2010-12-11 
 
depending on what country you are from. Notice how: 
 
2010-12-11 is unambiguous and also sorts chronologically.

Steve A.

At least in an area as North as Seattle, if it weren't for daylight savings, come summertime, our sunrise would be just after 4:00 am.  
 
 
 
For that reason alone, I think daylight savings is a great idea.

Colin

go to work one or two hours earlier. Why fool yourself by setting the clock forward, just have summer hours.

Allison Bailes

Thanks for all the great comments! Sorry I can't address them all here, but I was out doing quality assurance for our raters all day yesterday and am heading out to do that again today.  
 
Maybe part of what inspired this article is that when I got up yesterday, the clock read a bit after 5 am. My body still thought it was 4 am. Even worse, I traveled west into the next time zone, where my body would've thought I'd woken up at 3 am. No wonder I'm still tired this morning!