In what will be a welcome shock to our winter-weary systems up here in Vermont, Sunday marks the shift to Daylight Savings Time (DST), the day our clocks "spring forward" to offer an extra hour of what in these parts is much-appreciated sunshine. The idea, of course, is that among other benefits, the extra daylight will save energy by postponing the moment when we turn on our lights at night.
But does that really happen?
A href="http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB120406767043794825.html" target="_blank">new study suggests that (oops!!) those energy savings probably don't materialize. The study focuses on Indiana, where until 2006 only 16% of the state's counties adjusted their clocks in spring and fall, creating a perfect opportunity to compare/contrast the effect that DST had on energy use. The findings showed that once DST was adopted, residential electricity usage actually increased, by as much as 4%. The lights did go on later in the day, but warm afternoons and cool mornings negated these savings with higher air conditioning and heating costs.
The study didn't look at economic, recreational, and safety benefits, areas that earlier research suggested gain an appreciable advantage from extra evening light. Still, in an age of climate change, we can argue that energy conservation should be the primary goal of DST.
The study underscores the fundamental challenge o our age, which is finding ways to make the energy we use cheap, plentiful, and completely clean. We need to get to a place where it doesn't matter how much energy you use. Leave every light in the house on all day long. Run that AC until you can keep your food refrigerated in the middle of the living room. Keep DST going year-round. (Trust me. I'm all for it.) So as we spring ahead this year, let renewable energy be the goal we keep in sight.