Along with most other Americans, Alaskans moved to Daylight Savings Time on Sunday. The shift came a month earlier than last year, a change estimated to save energy consumption across the United States by up to 1 percent and reduce carbon emissions.
But there are reasons to doubt this savings will really happen in Alaska. When you live this far north along the 150th Meridian — the longitudinal line that passes over most of the state’s population — springing forward one hour on March 11 almost certainly conserves neither energy nor daylight.
Consider that Alaska already shifted off normal standard time in 1983 when the state consolidated three of its four time zones. Solar noon — when the sun is directly overhead — now comes at 1 p.m. in Anchorage and Fairbanks.
Alaska Daylight Time scoots that moment even later in the day, creating the ludicrous situation where the middle of the solar day falls in the middle of the human afternoon.
Combine this shift with the typical March climate of frigid mornings and clear skies, and you have thousands of people burning much more energy much earlier in the day. It’s as though Alaskans rolled back the date three weeks so they could experience an extra month of winter.
On March 11, under Alaska Daylight Time, effective daylight spread over the Chugach Mountains east of Anchorage just before 8 a.m., with official sunrise coming about 8:29 a.m. The last date we saw sunrise so late in the day was Feb. 20. And it will be another three weeks before we catch up.
On Monday morning, when most people get up for work and begin firing up their furnaces, brewing coffee, switching on lights, it will be dark an hour longer. This is Anchorage’s coldest hour: Minus 6 in my backyard on Sunday morning. The temperature doesn’t typically rise until the sun hits the streets.
This “double daylight” time hits the western part of the state with even more absurdity. Solar noon comes about 3 p.m. in Nome under daylight time, for instance. On March 11, daylight time brought effective daylight to the finish of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race about 8:40 a.m. — instead of 7:40 a.m. — with sunrise coming about 9:30 a.m.
Of course, any gain in daylight from shoving Alaskans’ daily schedule two hours off local noon becomes truly bizarre once we hit May and July. For the next couple months, we will gain five to six minutes of daylight every day, regardless of any Congressional tinkering with the clock. As all Alaskans know, and few people in the Lower 48 states realize, it never grows dark here between mid-May and mid-July, with the orange-red glow of sunset spinning from northwest to northeast, where it morphs into sunrise.
You might argue that Alaska should just go along without complaint, since the greater good may be served in the Lower 48 states, home to about 600 times the population. But a detailed statistical analysis published by the University of California Energy Institute suggests that net energy savings may be elusive, even down south.
A study of what happened in Victoria Australia when it switched to daylight time two months early for the 2000 Olympics found energy use surged so much during darker mornings that it swamped any savings earned from reduced energy use in the evening.
“We show that, while extending DST does reduce electricity consumption in the evening, the increased demand in the morning cancels this benefit out,” concluded Ryan Kellogg and Hendrik Wolff in Does Extending Daylight Saving Time Save Energy? Evidence From an Australian Experiment.
Using detailed panel data on half-hourly electricity consumption, prices, and weather conditions, we show that the extension failed to reduce electricity demand. We further examine prior DST studies and find that the most sophisticated simulation model available in the literature significantly overstates electricity savings when it is applied to the Australian data. These results suggest that current plans and proposals to extend DST will fail to conserve energy.
That possibility caught the attention of Adrienne Kandel with the California Energy Commission. In Electricity Savings from Early Daylight Savings Time, Kandel estimates that Californians will shave 2 percent to 5 percent off the evening peak load. But most of that savings will be eaten by a rise in morning use.
The net effect is small and uncertain: a best guess of total net energy savings is on the order 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.