British Summer Time – does it really help in keeping UK’s energy consumption down?

The latest round of energy price hikes has left many consumers facing a winter of increasing bills and extra worry. Each year the UK implements British Summer Time (known as Daylight Saving Time (DST) in many other countries) which allows for longer periods of light during the evening.

Whilst this may provide extra opportunity for enjoying the outdoors later in the day, what effect does this have on energy consumption, given the converse effect of decreased daylight in the morning?

There is currently no definitive answer as to whether the implementation of DST has a positive effect on energy efficiency and consumption, and effective arguments have been made both ways – while evening-based activities are extended, there is a detrimental impact on activities which often require work early in the morning, such as farming. For DST to have a positive overall effect, the benefits of decreased heating and lighting energy consumption in the evening would need to be
greater than the extra comparable use in the morning period caused by permanently altering the clocks.

In 2007, a paper was published which suggested that implementing DST throughout the year in Britain could achieve an overall saving of 2% of energy use, though the figure has been disputed and was later revised – as working patterns change and there is an increase in shift working and
businesses which operate around the clock, the effect of changing daylight hours continues to decrease. The UK did have a short period of permanent Daylight Saving Time (1968-1971) but this was scrapped due to protests, mainly from Northern regions, about the later sunrise and its
detrimental effect on certain sectors. Currently, DST is implemented in the UK from the lastSunday in March until the last Sunday in October, at which point the country reverts to GreenwichMean Time (GMT).

With consumers trying to deal with fluctuating energy tariffs – now at an all-time high in the UK – a recent campaign led by Baroness Billingham suggested that the UK would benefit greatly from extending DST throughout the British winter and indeed by a further hour in the summer,effectively putting British Summer Time two hours ahead of GMT. The peer suggested that environmental groups had calculated a reduction of around 500 billion tons of carbon dioxide
emissions with the change in daylight times, with lighter nights also helping to alleviate the problems caused by night time driving, especially around the 5pm evening “rush hour” period.

Whether the figures are accurate or not, however, there would be a corresponding detrimental impact on energy consumption earlier in the day, as people would need to light buildings for much longer in the morning.

By contrast, a 2005 study carried out by the Building Research Establishment (BRE) suggested that switching to permanent Daylight Savings Time, or even the more radical second extra hour in the summer, would NOT have much impact on domestic and commercial energy consumption or
carbon dioxide emissions, so clearly more studies need to be undertaken. The BRE concluded that in actual fact there could be an increase in energy consumption in commercial premises,completely counteracting any positives gained by energy savings due to extra daylight later in the day.

Clearly, much work needs to be done to provide a definitive and compelling argument either in favour of adopting year-round DST or even scrapping it completely, but at the moment the jury is out!


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