10:10′s Lighter Later campaign held a day of high-profile activity on Monday, the summer solstice, including a specially organised conference for MPs, peers and policy makers in Portcullis House, Westminster.
The event, on the lightest evening of the year, saw energy academics, road safety campaigners, representatives from the tourism industry and experts on crime and other social research areas come together to press the case for a change to the UK’s clocks to GMT+2 in summer and GMT+1 in winter.
The rationale is simple: aligning the clocks to better suit the population’s waking activity produces a diverse range of benefits to society. The overarching theme of the evening was that, considering the current economic and environmental situation, these are benefits we cannot afford to ignore.
Keynote speaker for the evening was Dr. Elizabeth Garnsey of Cambridge University’s Centre For Technology Management, presenting for the first time her paper on the energy savings expected from Lighter Later’s proposed clock changes, published recently in the peer-reviewed journal Energy Policy (Hill et al., 2010).
Dr. Garnsey and her team have been studying electricity demand in the UK for the past five years with particular focus on the weeks before and after the clock changes. The results she presented are clear. Were the UK to switch to GMT+1 in the winter there would be a clear 6GWh saving per day in the winter months alone.
“Translating that into carbon [dioxide] tonnes, that would have been around half a million tonnes saved. Which of course is cumulative: since the 1971 trial 20m tonnes of carbon dioxide could have been saved,” she said.
Dr. Garnsey’s second point, that the most important effect of Lighter Later is on peak demand, was stronger still: “Lower peak demand results in lower price of electricity and lower pollution on GMT+1 in winter. We found that peaks in demand could have been reduced by up to 4%. The reason is that when overall electricity demand surges beyond a certain level, the sources used to cover the peaks are the most inefficient and polluting. We estimate between a 0.6% and 0.8% saving overall.”
She added: “Think interest rates, because electricity prices have a similar knock-on effect over the economy as a whole. So there would definitely be winter savings on GMT+1.”
Robert Gifford of the Parliamentary Advisory Committee on Transport Safety (PACTS) restated his organisation’s support with some strong accident and financial numbers. During the trial of 1968 to 1971 there were 2,500 fewer road deaths. That translates into a conservative figure of 74 to 98 road deaths per annum today. Valuing the cost to the economy of each death at £1.5m, he argued that this would represent a saving to the tax payer of over £100m per annum, money that the NHS, for example, desperately needs.
The case was similarly made for tourism by Colin Dawson of BALPPA, who claimed the boost to the UK inbound industry would be as much as £3bn. Add in the fact that five of the nation’s top ten participation sports are light dependent and the health and obesity benefits are clear.
The number of Scottish lives saved and injuries prevented would be 20% greater proportionally than in the rest of the UK. Once again disproportionately Scots appear to be the major beneficiaries of change.
There was also space on the panel for Dr. Mayer Hillman of the Policy Studies Institute. Dr. Hillman is currently researching the positive economic impact of Lighter Later on Scotland. At the conference he gave compelling reasons why the change would positively impact the personal security of two key societal groups: the elderly and the young.
At present there is not a great deal of organised support against Lighter Later’s proposal, however there are firmly held cultural beliefs in parts of the UK, and particularly in Scotland, that the change will be less positive for those north of the border. Most speakers touched on this and called these views simply misinformed. Dr. Garnsey had some upfront statistics:
“[During the '68-'71 trial] there was an actual 8.6% net reduction in Scottish road deaths but this was disbelieved because it was in the face of a strongly held conviction that the trial had been a mistake… In fact the Transport Reseach Lab showed at least a hundred fewer deaths.”
Tom Mullarkey of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), who have been campaigning for 60 years on the issue, argued that in fact, Scotland would stand to benefit more than the rest of the UK from the move.
“The number of lives saved and injuries prevented would be 20% greater proportionally than in the rest of the UK. I don’t think people in Scotland realise this. In terms of the GDP that depends on tourism, it’s 4% in England and Wales, but in Scotland it’s just over 10%. Once again disproportionately Scots appear to be the major beneficiaries of change.”
From the expert panel to the audience, there was a huge amount of consensus in the room. Vocal in their support were MPs and peers from all sides of the house. Zac Goldsmith MP, Peter Bottomley MP (the event’s sponsoring MP) and Baroness Billingham all made vocal contributions from the floor. Whilst some on the panel have been campaigning on the issue for four decades, the diverse coalition that continues to grow under the Lighter Later banner has gained real momentum over the past number of months and is increasingly looking like an idea whose time has at last come.