Daylight time was first implemented as a way to conserve energy, but the controversial twice-yearly clock change actually has the opposite effect in Alberta, a Calgary economist says.

"When we're on daylight savings, we increase our electricity use here in Alberta," University of Calgary PhD candidate and C.D. Howe Institute fellow Blake Shaffer told the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday.

Shaffer and his research colleague Nic Rivers, who teaches in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and Institute of the Environment at the University of Ottawa, studied the effect of daylight time (DT) on energy consumption.

The impact very much depends on geography, Shaffer said.

blake shaffer

Economist Blake Shaffer says his research showed electricity use increases in Alberta when the province switches to daylight time. (C.D. Howe Institute)

Research by Rivers showed that DST reduces electricity demand in Ontario by 1.5 per cent.

Shaffer then looked at whether that's also the case in Alberta.

"I took a look at what daylight saving time does in Alberta, and, lo and behold, it's the opposite effect," he said.  

During DST, electricity use in Alberta rises by 1.6 per cent during the periods of spring and fall transition and by roughly one per cent across the entire DST period, Shaffer's study found.

It's Albertans' habit of getting up early that makes the difference, Shaffer said.

"Alberta's almost an outlier, in terms of how early we wake up. We get up around 20 minutes earlier than our Torontonian counterparts. And to add to that, the sun rises later."

Ontario's earlier sunrises and later waking hours leave fewer people affected by the transition to DST during morning hours — hence there's less need to use extra energy during DST.

The findings could bolster growing calls in Alberta to ditch DST.

Last month, Edmonton MLA Thomas Dang, launched public consultations on whether to end daylight time change. PC MLA Richard Starke has presented a petition calling for the same thing.

"To put the Albertan result into perspective, eliminating DST would have the equivalent energy saving effect as replacing about half of Alberta's residential lights with LED bulbs. All at the cost of a stroke of a pen," said the release by Shaffer and Rivers.

Energy cost vs. health benefits

But other research has shown health benefits associated with DST, Shaffer says.

Researchers at the University of Washington said DST leads to a measurable uptick in healthy, calorie-burning activity. And a study published by MIT found there was a seven per cent decline in robberies in jurisdictions on DST.

"It really comes down to energy versus health, and we'd have to weigh those two," said Shaffer. "I'd be a proponent of the morning light, but that's just me. So I'd be going with Mountain Standard Time."

The clocks go ahead one hour on March 12 as Alberta changes to daylight time.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener