Save energy by not turning clocks back in October, says expert

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Households could save more than £400 a year on energy bills if clocks were not put back at the end of October, according to an expert, who said it would help people with the cost of living crisis and reduce pressure on the National Grid this winter.

Evening energy demand peaks between 5pm and 7pm during winter. If clocks stayed on daylight saving time (DST), it would remain light for at least part of this time, reducing carbon emissions and energy demand.

Prof Aoife Foley, a clean energy expert at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “By simply forgoing the winter DST in October, we save energy because it is brighter in the evening during winter, so we reduce commercial and residential electrical demand as people leave work earlier, and go home earlier, meaning less lighting and heating is needed.”

This would help the government tackle the “energy war” in Europe resulting from the Ukraine invasion, she said. “Dependent on weather conditions this winter it is very likely we may need to start rationing energy very seriously to avoid bigger energy issues in December and January when gas reserves start to run low,” she said.

Foley’s calculations suggest that households could save £1.20 a day and more than £400 a year on electricity bills if clocks are not put back at the end of October, although exact amounts depend on tariffs.

While Foley argues for an extension of summer clock settings, there has long been debate over whether actually to scrap DST, introduced in 1916 to reduce energy demand during the war by prolonging evening daylight in summer. Opponents argue that it causes sleep disturbance, and contributes to potential road accidents. It was originally proposed in 1907 by William Willett, a builder and the great, great-grandfather of Coldplay’s Chris Martin, who is well known for the song Clocks.

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The European parliament voted to scrap the hour change in 2019, and a poll showed that most EU citizens agreed. But the change has yet to be implemented and no longer applies to the UK after Brexit.

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Foley did not include gas savings or electricity and gas in the commercial or industrial sectors in her calculations, but she said these would offer “even more significant energy, cost and emissions reductions”, flattening the evening peak on energy demand by up to 10%.

When it comes to concern about road traffic collisions, Foley’s research suggested most road deaths occur in good visibility during the day and outside built-up areas, and usually on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, with speed, tiredness and alcohol the main factors.

There would also be time zone issues between the UK and Ireland, creating two time zones between the north and south. Foley suggested this could be remedied if the two governments consulted on an emergency proposal to abolish daylight saving this year.

A government spokesperson said: “We do not agree with this claim, and it is wrong to suggest this would save people money. The current daylight-saving arrangements give optimal use of the available daylight across the UK.

“We know it is a difficult time for families across the country, which is why we have put in place immediate support for the coming winter. The Government’s Energy Price Guarantee is reducing the price of energy and millions of the most vulnerable households are also receiving £1,200 each this year in additional support.”

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This article was amended on 21 October 2022 to add a response from the government, which was received after publication.

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