From citizen engagement to sustainable heat networks


Climate, Energy & Sustainability

Picture of Verena Brennan
Verena Brennan

Energy Awareness Manager at Codema, Dublin's Energy Agency, Ireland

Cities are playing an increasingly important role in addressing climate change. They shape local policy and have a significant impact on the quality and sustainability of their citizens’ lives as well as on a global level.

With Ireland emerging from a deep recession, Dublin can take a lead role in advocating climate action. Governed by four municipalities – Dublin City Council, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Fingal County Council and South Dublin County Council – the Dublin Region works closely with its energy agency Codema to address some of the biggest challenges, and looks to Europe for some of the answers.

Codema is a not-for-profit limited company set up by Dublin City Council in 1997 under the SAVE II Programme of the EU. Spearheaded by physicist Dr Gerry Wardell, the company has grown from a two-man operation to a team of 14 staff. Despite major budget cuts, the Dublin local authorities are obliged to achieve a 33% energy reduction by 2020 under the European climate change targets, so Codema remains relevant.

As one of its core functions, Codema monitors and reports the energy use of the Dublin local authorities and the progress they are making towards this 2020 target. While preliminary monitoring and reporting data for 2016 has shown that the councils have made considerable energy savings relative to the 2009 baseline year, the next four years will be crucial in tackling the remaining gap. This can only be achieved through considerable effort to improve energy efficiency in the councils’ operations, as much of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked.

Dublin’s climate change agenda

Acknowledging that climate change is a transboundary challenge, the four Dublin Local Authorities came together in 2016 to collaborate closely on solutions and synchronise their methodologies for measuring and reporting. Codema prepared a strategy on behalf of the municipalities entitled ‘A Strategy Towards Climate Change Action Plans for the Dublin Local Authorities’. This focused on seven main areas: citizen and stakeholder engagement, planning, energy, transport, water, waste and ecosystems and biodiversity. Codema followed up in 2017 by developing climate change action plans for the individual councils. These are due to be finalised by the end of 2017 and go to public consultation in 2018, in order to engage Irish citizens in climate change dialogue.

Ireland’s Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment emphasised the need to for people to change from passive consumers to active citizens in its White Paper “Ireland’s Transition to a Low Carbon Energy Future 2015-2030”. Codema has long recognised this and has been running an energy awareness programme with the Dublin local authorities. Key challenges were the intangibility of energy and getting staff members interested in implementing action in their own homes. Codema therefore developed the Home Energy Saving Kit, a toolkit containing six practical tools to help citizens save energy and at home. Launched in  2016, the kits are available to borrow free of charge from libraries across Dublin City. Initially inspired by a similar scheme in South Australia, 67 kits are now in circulation, and the scheme is due to be extended to further counties following its success at the EU Sustainable Energy Awards earlier this year. The kits give householders the chance to get involved in the energy transition by identifying simple efficiency issues and helping them improve and retrofit their homes.

Addressing high energy bills for the Dublin Local Authorities

Local authorities are also facing high energy bills in their own operations. Currently 70% of their overall energy consumption is on electricity. Switching to renewable energy and improving the energy efficiency of council buildings is therefore at the top of the agenda. Routine replacement of lighting fixtures and office appliances already takes into consideration the highest efficiency specifications. However, the key area is public lighting, which is by far the largest consumer of electricity, and LED technologies are required to meet the 2020 targets.

Recent successes include Dublin City Council’s first Energy Performance Contract (EPC), which involved a range of energy-efficiency upgrades in the council’s three largest leisure centres. An EPC is a contractual agreement by an Energy Service Company (ESCo) to guarantee energy savings over an agreed period of time, reducing the risks of energy upgrades to the local authority. Dublin City Council will therefore benefit from potential energy savings of 38% throughout the eight-year contract, saving up to 640 tonnes of CO2. Codema sees these performance-related energy upgrades as key to the Dublin Local Authorities achieving the EU targets. Through its EU cooperation on the Horizon2020-funded GuarantEE project, Codema is striving to roll out the EPC model beyond the public sector and promote the EPC self-assessment tool. The tool, developed by Dutch project partner Rijksdienst voor Ondernemend (, helps building owners and facility managers take the first step towards an EPC by determining in less than five minutes whether their building might be suitable.

Transitioning to a sustainable heat networks

Ireland currently imports 85% of its fossil fuels, so there is a major opportunity for Irish cities to switch to low- or zero-carbon sources. District heating is well established in other European countries, and Codema has been investigating its potential for Dublin. It provides a highly efficient heat distribution network using flexible heat sources. Evidence-based energy maps can be used as a tool for town and city planners to influence future energy use. With 75% of Dublin City considered suitable for district heating, the newly built waste-to-energy plant in its docklands provides an ideal heat source for a network. Codema is also working closely with district heating experts from the UK, Belgium, France and the Netherlands as part of the €11.5m HeatNet NWE project, which is co-funded under Interreg North-West Europe and seeks to promote the rollout across north-western Europe of fourth generation district heating, the most advanced form. A pilot project is starting in South Dublin.

This article is from Friends of Europe’s discussion paper ‘Cities – the new policy shapers in the energy transition’, in which international experts, policy-makers and entrepreneurs report from cities and regions all around the globe acknowledging cities’ evolving and prominent role within the energy transition. Cities are teaming up, creating coalitions and sharing knowledge on the most advanced and innovative solutions to tackle climate-related risks.

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