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Daylight savings saves more than just daylight


Fri, Feb 16th, 2007
Posted in Commentary

Microsoft Corp. software gurus (or geeks, as many people refer to them as) have been doing a little hand-wringing as the monumental date March 11, 2007 draws nigh. "Y2K07," as March 11 has been referred to, is the new date the federal government has decided we "spring ahead." As an energy-saving measure, the folks in Washington DC handed down an edict in 2005 decreeing daylight-saving time would start three weeks earlier in the spring and end one week later in the fall, beginning this year.

While the concern over Y2K07 is just a puff in the wind, compared to the near-hysteria that occurred seven years ago when we entered the new millennium, Microsoft has been issuing some warnings to folks who utilize its calendar programs, just the same. Any software programmed before Congress passed the law in 2005 is set to automatically advance its timekeeping by one hour on the first Sunday in April, not the second Sunday in March.

The result is a glitch reminiscent of the Y2K bug, when there was world-wide fear computers would interpret the year 2000 as 1900, and entire systems would crash.

The problem won't show up only in computers, however. It will affect many non-networked devices that store the time and automatically adjust for daylight saving, including some digital watches, clocks, and cell phones.

But why do we have daylight-saving time? Was it created just to give folks more time to enjoy the evening hours following a day at work, or is it actually an energy-saving measure?

According to an informational piece provided by the California Energy Commission, the demand for electricity for lighting our homes is directly connected to when we go to bed and when we get up. When we go to bed, we turn off the lights and TV.

In the average home, 25 percent of all the electricity we use is for lighting and small appliances, such as TVs, VCRs, computers, and stereos. A good percentage of energy consumed by lighting and appliances occurs in the evening when families are home. By moving the clock ahead one hour, we can cut the amount of electricity we consume each day.

Studies conducted in the 1970s by the U.S. Department of Transportation show we trim the entire country's electricity usage by about one percent every day with daylight-saving time.

Daylight-saving time "makes" the sun "set" one hour later and therefore reduces the period between sunset and bedtime by one hour. This means less electricity would be used for lighting and appliances late in the day.

We also use less electricity because we are home fewer hours during the "longer" days of spring and summer. When we are not at home, we don't turn on the appliances and lights.

So who came up with the idea of daylight-saving time and when?

Benjamin Franklin, while a minister to France, first suggested the idea in an essay titled "An Economical Project for Diminishing the Cost of Light." The essay was first published in the Journal de Paris in April 1784. But it wasn't for more than a century later an Englishman, William Willett, revisited the idea in 1907.

Daylight-saving time was introduced to Americans during the height of World War One in 1918. In order to conserve resources for the war effort, the U.S. Congress placed the country on daylight-saving time for the remainder of WW I. It was observed for seven months in 1918 and 1919. The law, however, proved so unpopular it was later repealed.

When America went to war again, Congress reinstated daylight-saving time on Feb. 9, 1942. It remained advanced one hour forward year-round until September 30, 1945. From 1945 to 1966, there was no U.S. law about daylight-saving time. So states and localities were free to observe it or not. This, however, caused confusion - especially for the broadcasting industry, and for trains and buses.

By 1966, some 100 million Americans were observing daylight-saving time through their own local laws and customs. Congress decided to end the confusion and establish one pattern across the country. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 created daylight-saving time to begin on the last Sunday of April and to end on the last Sunday of October. Any area that wanted to be exempt from daylight-saving time could do so by passing a local ordinance. The law was amended in 1986 to begin daylight-saving time on the first Sunday in April.

And now, 21 years later, daylight-saving time is being "tweaked" a little more - as we will have four more weeks of "DST."

While I'm all in favor of saving energy any way possible, it concerns me a might bit how dark the morning hours will be when "springing ahead" on March 11. As I pen this column on Thursday, Feb. 15, sunrise is 7:04 a.m. and sunset is 5:35 p.m. We are currently picking up about two minutes of daylight each day. Twenty-five days from now sunrise will be about 6:40 a.m. And when we spring forward on March 11, sunrise will be an hour later, or 20 minutes before 8 a.m.

My wife and I have a tough enough time getting our teenaged daughter up and ready for the school bus now. Having it dark for an hour later before spring even gets here will make it that much more challenging!

Charlie Warner lives in Canton.

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