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2 a.m. Sunday, Ben Franklin & your PG&E bill

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POSTED November 3, 2012 12:06 a.m.

What do Benjamin Franklin, Al Gore, global warming and 2 a.m. this Sunday as well as you PG&E bill all have in common?

Here’s a hint: It causes you to lose an hour of sleep in the fall and get a bonus hour with Mr. Sandman in the spring.

Daylight Savings Time was brought to us by the same man who was the father of the United States Post Office. And just like what’s happening with the Post Office, the 21st century is challenging the relevance and effectiveness of a strategy such as Daylight Savings Time.

Franklin’s proposal to turn the clocks back an hour in the fall and to move them forward an hour in the spring was based on how people seemed to sleep through the first hour or so of light during summer mornings and then burned candles to stay up in darkness.

It wasn’t until 1918 - at the height of World War I - that the United States saw it as a way to save energy.

And although Daylight Savings Time has been dropped and activated several times since then, after 1918 the widely accepted rational for fooling with the clocks has been the savings of energy.

A 1975 federal Department of Transportation study seemed to verify it. It was based on the fact 25 percent of a typical household’s energy consumption was in small appliances and lights. And by reducing the need for lights during waking hours, energy consumption would be reduced. The following year the National Bureau of Statistics disputed the Department of Transportation’s finding that energy savings were significant. No one studied the concept again seriously until 2006.

That’s when Indiana mandated that all of their counties switch to Daylight Savings Time. Policy wonks on the federal government level projected counties making the switch would save $7 million annually in energy costs. A subsequent follow up study showed their energy consumption actually went up by $8 million a year.

What happened? For starters, air conditioning wasn’t universal in 1975, as opposed to 2006.

And what about energy consumption pattern charges in place today? Big consumers of electricity today include computers, the charging of electronic devices, and other such tech age inventions. Meanwhile, the lighting and small appliances that drove the theory behind Daylight Savings being the equivalent of energy savings have become misers.

Lighting is substantially more efficient.

Congress blindly holding on to Daylight Savings blindly makes as almost as much sense as the federal government decreeing that public school can’t start until after Labor Day solely on the fact it made sense when we were an agrarian society and all hands were needed for the harvest.

Schools today often start in early August at the height of the summer heat, which can’t be good for energy consumption based on school air conditioning.

All of this begs the question whether Daylight Savings has some unintended consequences — such as inadvertently contributing to global warming. It may have little impact either way but if energy consumption reduction is still the rationale for doing it, then someone should measure it.

In the end it might be more effective to mandate that big power users simply shut down or reduce operations during peak hours. We burn more fossil fuels to generate electrify for peak use and then waste clean hydro capacity during low-use hours that typically occur in the dead of the night.

Ben Franklin wasn’t sentimental. He was industrious. But even he’d probably agree that the entire concept of Daylight Savings needs another look.

But even so, the man who could turn flying a kite into an electrifying experience might well agree with the majority of Americans in a poll done several years ago that they like the idea of having extra daylight during summer evenings.

In all likelihood the impact of Daylight Savings on energy savings is negligible

 

This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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