Sunday, 25 October 2009

Clocks go back - but when to set them forward?

At 03:00 this morning the clocks went back for winter. An end to Daylight Saving Time. For the next five months.

We revert to winter time (CET in Poland, GMT in the UK) just two months (more or less) before winter solstice. Summer time (CEST in Poland, BST in the UK) returns three months after winter solstice (late March). Why the assymmetry?

So I say - let's set the clocks forward for summertime not at the end of March, but at the end of February. Let's have winter time for four months of the year, not five.

There are three very good reasons.

One is energy saving. The extra hour of daylight represents a huge saving when the entire northern hemisphere is taken into account. A 2007 study estimated that winter daylight saving would prevent a 2% increase in average daily electricity consumption in Great Britain, which is at similar latitudes to Poland. Now that's for five months - I'm talking here about one month as there are advantages in waking up later in mid-winter. So if five months would be a 2% saving, one month would be a 0.4% saving - 240,000 tonnes of CO2 just for the UK alone.

Two is road safety. By late February, the sun rises early enough for children to go to school in daylight even with the clocks set forward an hour. But the extra hour of daylight in the evening ensures that the evening rush hour takes place before the onset of darkness. This would save lives.

Three - perhaps most important - is psychological. By late February, the body is yearning for the longer day and for spring. The sun rises at around half past six in the morning and sets just after five in Warsaw. I'm sure we could live with a sudden jump to a half past seven sunrise to balance out a six pm sunset. This would lift the moods of millions in the northern hemisphere, not just those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. This affects some 8%-9% of populations living in our latitudes.

By late February, the day is three hours longer in Warsaw than it is on 22 December (winter solstice), but it's still a hour and half shorter than at vernal equinox (22 March).

This academic group wants GMT+1 imposed in the UK (ie the same time as Central Europe has in winter and the UK has in the summer) all the year round. This has the drawback that the UK will be out of step with Continental Europe for seven months of the year.

I'm offering a sensible compromise - all of Europe still changes clocks on the same day, but let's move that day one month forward - to the last Sunday of February - across the whole of the EU.

What'd you say?


Anonymous said...

Psychological is the most important. By last February I was attempting to jump out the window but I was so deranged by then that it was the basement window!

student SGH said...

I took the trouble to read most the report you refer to - they've got the point, mostly with the chart which show the period of humans' activity and the daylight (the sleep/awake one). Summer time suqares much butter with our daily routines. Argument about road accidents is also irrefutable. But the daily routine is the key issue to be taken in consideration. We no longer wake up and knock on at the crack of dawn, then we knock off later and tend to keep late hours in the evening. Sleeping after sunrise and staying awake after sunset is a palpable waste of electricity (though some like it).

My proposal would be in our time zone to switch to summer time (GMT+2) only, for Britain keeping to GMT+1 all year round and stop bothering to set clocks in October and March. Thus the Isles would stay one hour behind almost the rest of EU. Renaming the time zones is also conceivable. The new British all-year time (current BST) should be called GMT, and our new GMT+1 - of course the rest of the world would also have to adjust to it!

If this can't be pushed ahead, I'll back up your February proposal.

The most absurd thing in it is that the winter time is our actual time, not the summer one. But in the winter solar noon is in Warsaw at 11.24 a.m. - much before the middle of a working day, in the weekend not much later than many people get up...