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As clocks go back this weekend in Spain, there are few energy savings to be made say experts

At 3am Sunday the time will return to 2am, ushering in the winter timetable. More and more countries, however, are questioning whether the practice should continue

Offices and apartments in the center of Madrid.
Offices and apartments in the center of Madrid.Luis Sevillano
Lucía Foraster Garriga

This weekend the clocks will go back: at 3am on Sunday morning in mainland Spain, it will be 2am once more, ushering in the winter timetable. The change will happen at 2am local time in the Canary Islands, which are an hour behind mainland Spain. The most immediate effect will be noted in terms of natural light: from this Sunday, the sun will rise and set earlier.

The changing of the clocks – which takes place twice a year in the European Union, in March and October – was designed to help save energy. The change on Sunday comes in the midst of record price rises for electricity. But according to experts, the energy savings from putting the clocks back one hour will be minimal.

The changing of the clocks was approved at a very different time from the current one
Institute for the Diversification and Saving of Energy (IDAE)

Ricardo Izurzun, spokesperson from the energy and climate change area of NGO Ecologists in Action, told Spanish news agency EFE: “Changing the clocks may have made sense 40 or 50 years ago, when lighting represented significant consumption of energy.” But now, he continued, “it represents relatively small usage.”

“The changing of the clocks was approved at a very different time from the current one,” added the Institute for the Diversification and Saving of Energy (IDAE). “Then there was much higher consumption of electricity and life habits that had a greater effect on energy consumption. Now, however, the reality is different – for example, for work, timetables have changed and homeworking has become more common, meaning that the routines of citizens do not coincide so much in the same space and time.”

What’s more, the IDAE continued, there are more mechanisms to help save energy, such as the use of more efficient light bulbs and other devices, as well as consumers being able to choose the contracted power levels they have in the home and a variety of billing options.

Given this scant difference in savings, combined with the interruption to biorhythms caused by the changing of the clocks, the majority of countries in the EU are now pushing to scrap the custom. The European Commission carried out a survey in 2018, in which 84% of the 4.6 million citizens who took part stated they were in favor of an end to to the twice-yearly time change.

The EC proposed at the time abolishing the directive that established the practice, and allowing each country to choose what to do about summer and winter time. The EC recommended that member states take the decision in 2019, but it ended up being postponed to this year. Still, however, no action has been taken. A lack of agreement between countries, and disagreements domestically too, suggests that the issue will not be resolved any time soon.

The president of the National Commission for the Rationalization of Spanish Timetables, José Luis Casero, said that the October timetable is the one that should be adopted, given that it is “the most appropriate for factors such as health, rest, productivity and performance both at work and at school.”

Effects on mood

Javier Albares, a specialist in clinical neurophysiology and an expert in sleep medicine, agreed with Casero. “Although the winter timetable is less popular among the vast majority of the population, from a medical point of view it’s the most beneficial,” he said.

The time change in winter can cause minor disruption, in particular among the most vulnerable population, such as children and seniors, and can have an effect on eating habits, concentration and mood. But these usually pass in just three or four days.

“The best thing would be for there to be no change,” argued Albares, offering a series of tips to adjust to the change quicker: go to bed according to the new timetable, adjust your eating times, and most importantly get lots of natural light.

“Sunlight, which is our main guide for our rhythms, is key,” he said. “It is advisable to get at least two hours of it a day, preferably in the morning.”

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