Yesterday morning, we all sprang forward thanks to Daylight Savings Time, and commenced the spring rite of debating whether or not DST still makes any sense in a non-agrarian society. Lately, the arguments have centered on speculation that the practice causes us to burn more energy. Whether you turn on lights early to keep from fumbling around in the early morning darkness, or turn on lights earlier in the evening because the sun has set at 5pm, you are in some way compensating for the offset daylight schedules. So it’s worth recalling a recent study that looked into the matter with unprecedented detail, and found that the anti-DST movement was probably right:
Focusing on residential electricity demand, we conduct the first-ever study that uses micro-data on households to estimate an overall DST effect. The dataset consists of more than 7 million observations on monthly billing data for the vast majority of households in southern Indiana for three years. Our main finding is that—contrary to the policy’s intent—DST increases residential electricity demand. Estimates of the overall increase are approximately 1 percent, but we find that the effect is not constant throughout the DST period. DST causes the greatest increase in electricity consumption in the fall, when estimates range between 2 and 4 percent…We estimate a cost of increased electricity bills to Indiana households of $9 million per year. We also estimate social costs of increased pollution emissions that range from $1.7 to $5.5 million per year. Finally, we argue that the effect is likely to be even stronger in other regions of the United States.
A few months ago, the authors wrote an op-ed in The Timess arguing that DST should be abolished. I personally find it maddening.