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Spring Forward! March 8, 2008

Posted by Chuck Musciano in Random Musings.
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Ah, you can tell the seasons are changing.  Temperatures are rising, trees are budding, and most important of all, we have to set all our clocks forward one hour.  It is time for the biannual time shift known as Daylight Savings Time.

From an IT perspective, DST is just an irritant.  So many systems, so many clocks, so many potential job streams to be broken.  In the spring, jobs scheduled between 2 and 3 AM don’t run; in the fall, they all run twice.  Somewhere, some system will not change, and everything will be off by an hour until some attentive user calls the support desk.  Last year, the great DST Change that mandated that we start earlier and end later just about killed every Exchange mail administrator in the United States.  Even now, the echoes of that debacle show up in weird time-shifted appointments that linger from late last March.

Indiana has always been held in special regard in the IT world, due to their truculent insistence on not converting to DST like the rest of us.  How many hours of development and testing has been dedicated to accommodating 77 counties in Indiana?  We’ll never know.

Fortunately, these counties have allowed us to learn something I suspected all along: DST wastes energy.  Long advertised as an energy-saving initiative, DST actually causes people to use more energy than Standard Time.

In 2006, these rogue counties in Indiana finally threw in the towel and converted to DST with the rest of us.  This provided a golden opportunity to study their energy usage and compare it to previous, non-DST usage patterns.  The final result: DST uses 4% more energy that standard time.  As reported by the Wall Street Journal, here’s why:

  • People run their air conditioning more in the evening when it is warmer
  • People run their heat in the morning, when they get up in the cooler early hours
  • Heating and cooling costs more than offset the saved lighting costs in the evening

This last bullet is my favorite.  It surprises a lot of researchers that it costs more to heat and cool a house than it does to illuminate it.  (This does not surprise those of us who pay the bills).

In the end, affected Indiana families paid $8.6 million more in energy costs due to the change.  Their US Representative, Julia Carson, had promised $7 million in savings.  That’s a net loss of $15.6 million, not including the conversion costs for businesses who had to reprogram every device they ever owned since the dawn of computing.

In the end, this serves to reinforce two important lessons:

  • The Law of Unintended Consequences never fails to be applied
  • The government never improves anything it touches

Still, there is a light at the end of this tunnel.  If nothing else, that extra hour of daylight we get from DST should allow us to grow more corn, producing more ethanol to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil!

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