New Daylight Saving Time not so bright an idea

Call me a conspiracy theorist, if you like, but I suspect the coffee lobbyists in Washington D.C. had a hand in convincing Congress to extend Daylight Saving Time (DST) by a full month. DST kicks in on March 11 this year, three weeks earlier than before, and Starbucks, Peet's, and other caffeine dealers of the United States certainly stand to gain from an extra 15 days of bleary-eyed commuters roaming staggerin

So we have a lot of work and adjusting to do as the extended DST approaches. The question remains as to whether the country as a whole will benefit from the adjustment in the way we'd hope: reduced energy usage. While past tweaks have proven successful, a new study suggests the newest adjustment's impact may be negligible -- or even detrimental to the energy-saving cause.

Back in 1974 and 1975, America extended the DST to ten months and eight months respectively. The Department of Transportation concluded that doing so saved the equivalent of 10,000 barrels of oil each day. California Energy Commission tabulated that at a savings of about one percent per day.

Then in 1986, President Ronald Reagan tacked on April to DST, which, according to Bob Aldrich of the California Energy Commission (CEM), "is estimated to save nationwide about 300,000 barrels of oil each year."

However, a report just released [PDF] from Dr. Adrienne Kandal, with the CEM's Demand Analysis Office, has a not-so-promising prediction about this year's newly extended DST. At best, she said, we might enjoy half a percentage in energy savings. But there's a 25% chance we'll see a very small increase in electricity use.

Specifically, she wrote: "If people do maintain their daily schedules then spring and fall Daylight Saving Time extensions would probably cause a 2 to 5% drop in the evening peak load. Meanwhile, morning electricity use would grow some, but probably not enough to offset evening savings."

"The net effect is small and uncertain: A best guess of total net energy savings is on the order of half of one percent, but savings could just as well be zero. Moreover, our statistical analysis leaves us with one chance in four there could be a very small increase in electricity use."

Notably, the good doctor was looking only at California's energy usage, so it's not clear what we'd see nationwide in terms of overall energy savings. My hunch is, in states that suffer real winters, people will be cranking up the heat when they slide out of bed during those earlier, colder days.

I'd like to be more excited about the prospect the reduced energy consumption that could come with the longer DST, but I'm afraid it's just going to prove to be little more than a poorly planned, token effort by the government to ward off the impending energy crisis. Reducing our increasingly expensive thirst for energy is going to take stricter standards, as well investment in developing and incentives for using alternative energy.

Have some thoughts to share or questions to ask about preparing for the forthcoming DST adjustment? Log in to the discussion on IT-Exec Connect and post away.