Eco Comment – Using the Hours of Daylight

27 October 2023

What do the following dates have in common? 1714, 1759, 1784, 1907 and 1916.

Another set of clues – Queen Anne, John Harrison, Benjamin Franklin, William Willet and Kaiser Willhelm II.

And the answer is (as if you hadn’t guessed!) this weekend’s clock change for the end of British Summer time and how using the hours of daylight is still an issue around the world.

It was all down to the locally born Foulby lad, carpenter and clock maker John Harrison working out a way of recording longitude with his H4 “sea watch” and eventually achieving remit of the first Longitude Prize, although he never actually received the official award. (Nostell Priory is home to three of Harrison’s long case clocks and the Longitude Prize is still given and this year is to fund further work on dementia technology.)

It is understood that one of the first references to the idea of altering time to suit the seasons of the year was by Benjamin Franklin. He was an American delegate in Paris and had objected to being woken by the sun at dawn and wrote a satirical essay in which he calculated that Parisians, simply by waking up at dawn, could save the modern-day equivalent of 200 million dollars through “the economy of using sunshine instead of candles.”

In 1907 William Willet, a London builder, wrote a pamphlet “Waste of Daylight” after an early morning ride through Petts Wood when he had noticed that some houses still had their blinds down even though the sun was fully risen. He was to spend a fortune on introducing a bill before parliament to make it compulsory to adjust clocks but it was met with ridicule and opposition especially from the farming interests and he died just a year before it came into being.

It was in 1916, following the lead from Germany, that a daylight-saving scheme came into being. Sadly it caused much confusion as not everybody took notice and the Royal Meteorological Society insisted that Greenwich meantime would still be used to measure tides. London County Council closed it’s parks at dusk and Kew Gardens ignored it altogether and closed by the clock.

It wasn’t until 1925 that a law was enacted and that clocks would go forward by one hour at 1am GMT on the last Sunday of March and fall back one hour at 1am on the last Sunday of October.

This change to British Summer time is still as contentious as it was in 1907. Does daylight-saving reduce energy usage? A study in America in 1975 said it saved 1%. New Zealand said usage fell by 3.5%. However other studies found that results were inconclusive and energy savings were insignificant. From the conservation of coal in World War 1 to savings during the global oil crisis in the 1980s, it appears that old habits die hard. In 2018, the European Parliament voted to get rid of the twice-a-year clock changes after a poll of 4.6 million EU citizens showed strong support for scrapping it, but it hasn’t come into force yet. Most of England and Wales get only eight hours of sunlight in December and January so, unless we change our working practices, the lights will be going on at either end of the day and probably during the dull days as well.

As ever, it will be down to us to make savings as and when we can, if only to spend less on fuel.

Susan Morgan
Eco Group

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