Energy Saving through a Time Zone Change

By Unmukta Sinha

To help India meet the challenges of increasing energy demand, Toine van Megen, a long time resident of India, proposed in January 2005 a simple, straightforward and most importantly a ‘zero-cost’ solution of advancing permanently the Indian Standard Time (IST) by half an hour—from GMT +5.30 to GMT + 6.00.

The idea is that with a permanent advancement of IST by half an hour, the sun sets half an hour later (as per our clock) and also rises half an hour later. This results in a shorter period of artificial lighting needs in the evening while the need for artificial lighting in the morning would increase. But since there is much more activity that requires lighting in the evening than in the early morning, there is a net saving of electricity required for lighting. Since he made this proposal in 2005, Toine van Megen has been quietly but persistently campaigning for it and managed to get it taken note of by the Ministries of Power, Finance and the Planning Commission.

In 2010, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) set up a Steering Committee of which Mr. Toine van Megen also became a member. The Steering Committee assigned to the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) a study that was to look into various options of energy savings based on time zone considerations as well as Daylight Saving Time (DST). Their conclusion, published in a September 2011 report by Dr. Sen Gupta and Dr. Dilip Ahuja, concurs with that of van Megen’s: advancing India’s clock permanently by half an hour is the most efficient way (easiest to implement, no negative social consequences) to reduce the nation’s power consumption.

Their research further elucidates upon the extent of energy savings that can be achieved throughout India. They extrapolate an estimate of 2.72 billion units per annum on national savings (according to state-level data compared to 2.1 billion units derived in their previous estimate using regional data). While this amounts to a 0.4percent savings on daily consumption (using 2009 data) and may not appear significant, the real impact is on the peak load energy consumption of the early evening period which is estimated to be reduced by as much as 16percent. The proposal thus targets precisely the evening peak demand that India’s power sector struggles to fulfil. (Also, at Rs. 3.50 per kWh, this amounts to savings of about Rs. 1,000 crores per annum and this number will keep on increasing with enhanced use of lights, the overall economic growth and the increasing cost of energy).

Most Indians are not bothered by our time zone, apart from the Northeast where the sun rises around 4a.m. in the summer and sets well before 4p.m. in the winter, creating a two-hour time lag from Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh. This would normally require a separate time zone for the Northeast, a practice common in several other countries such as Canada and the USA. But the downside of such  a practice, given India’s massive population, would be chaos at the borders between two time zones; besides, the railways are not yet automated enough to handle time shifts mid-journey and this could induce major accidents due to human error. Thus, the advancing of IST by half an hour, while making no real difference to Gujarat, would benefit the whole nation, with an optimal impact in the Northeast. As their work hours become more synchronised with the sun, their lighting costs would reduce and they would no more have to work in the dark.

Many western nations follow Daylight Saving Time (DST), a practice wherein the clocks are advanced in the summer and retracted in the winter, enabling efficient usage of daylight and reduction in power consumption. However, yet again, with a diverse and large society in India, the practice of DST would demand tremendous organisation and coordination and may not assure energy saving; rather, it would increase hazards in transport/road mishaps. Thus using time zones or DST to increase daylight usage and hence energy efficiency was ruled out as the social costs could be greater than actual savings. However shifting India’s time zone permanently has none of these overheads and instead entails the benefits of both DST and separate time zones without its hassles.

Lastly, the increase in available daylight resulting from advancing IST, can only positively affect the stunted economic growth and development of the east Indian States of West Bengal, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Sikkim and the seven north-eastern states. Additionally, as the region begins to develop further and consume proportionately more electricity, the absolute power savings that would result would be substantial, and essential to its growth.

Thus, with all these considerations and no negative social, political, or economic impacts, the aforementioned proposal of advancing the IST from GMT +5.30 to GMT + 6.00 permanently was suggested. What makes the proposal even more enticing is the fact that it costs practically nothing to implement. A short media campaign is all that is needed before it is put in place once and for all.

The new Indian power ministry has a daunting task in the years to come as India reels under a staggering power deficit. With Prime Minister Modi’s thrust on infrastructure growth and economic revival, this issue is only going to exacerbate unless clear policies to increase power supply are put into place. Following a principle of ‘waste not, want not’, a more efficient utilization of power, especially during peak demand, would substantially reduce this burden. The ‘too good to be true’ solution of shifting the IST half an hour ahead to GMT +6.00, permanently, is precisely one that adheres to this principle; moreover, it can be implemented without much ado and will benefit the nation with almost immediate effect. The seed for this proposal was planted already in January 2005. Had it been implemented then, we would have saved already about 20 billion kWh of power worth approximately Rs. 7,000 crore. Let us hope that the new Government at the Centre finds time to look into this simple but highly effective time zone proposal that benefits the nation as a whole and for all times to come.

Unmukta Sinha is an intern at the Takshashila Institution

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One Response to Energy Saving through a Time Zone Change

  1. Bhabani Patnaik July 1, 2014 at 2:56 pm #

    Advancing the time zone alone may not contribute to better energy management. Considering peak load for lighting only, it’s entirely dependant on the intensity of sunlight and irrespective of time would remain same more or less. But yes commercial and industrial loads would vary, which in any case forms bulk of power consumption.

    So a double time zone is what is required. For best results the national grid has to be in place.

    Author’s concern is laudable.

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