In 2013, Dublin City Council (DCC) applied for the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge after discussions with Dublin City University on the opportunities of solar power in the city. Solar is a growing source of energy in cities on a similar latitude to Dublin and we wanted to understand if it was economic for DCC to use it on its own buildings. The Smarter Cities Challenge awards successful cities with €500,000 worth of IBM staff time to concentrate on the topic for three weeks and culminates in the delivery of a report and recommendations. With the input of the city’s lord mayor and senior council staff, Dublin became one of 16 successful cities out of over 100 applicants for the 2014 awards. The final challenge we submitted also asked the researchers to explore opportunities for DCC to support solar power more broadly in the city and to inform citizens about how they could benefit from solar power. Uniquely, the IBM team for the Dublin challenge were joined by two HSBC bank staff to provide input to the financing questions we had raised. The six-person team spent three weeks meeting over 30 stakeholders in the business, non-governmental organisations and community sectors. The researchers were well supported by both IBM and Dublin City Council and were given access to the locations and information they required for this high-level analysis. In their feedback, they said that they were struck by the level of expertise in the city and suggested that an opportunity was being missed to utilise it. Many of the solar businesses and experts they interviewed had delivered successful projects abroad, but not in Ireland. These insights were captured in the report.

Benefits of photovoltaic technology and renewables

Summarising their findings, given that the cost of photovoltaic (PV) technology had dropped significantly, they found that it was an appropriate and viable technology for electrical energy generation. They found that PV is both low risk and low maintenance. In terms of energy security, the diversification of indigenous renewable energy sources could create a more resilient power supply infrastructure. However, it was also noted that to realise the best value, solar energy must be considered in tandem with energy efficiency and smart building measures. It was seen as an efficiency advantage that energy be generated on a local level, close to the source of consumption. An important consideration for recommending solar was that it is a low CO2 solution and does not generate particulate emissions in use. It is also silent in operation and can involve minimal visual intrusion. The Smarter Cities Challenge team also felt that there was an opportunity for Dublin City Council to show leadership and to play a role in informing the wider community. The council can be part of the promotion of renewable energy to other sectors and property owners in the city, leading by example. Having understood the context and opportunities, the team delivered their recommendations to DCC and to the stakeholders they had interviewed at an event in the council’s Wood Quay venue. Those recommendations are available in the report under the following headings:
  • Implement solar PV on prime municipal buildings;
  • Install solar on other municipal assets;
  • Push for a solar feed-in tariff (REFIT);
  • Introduce a ‘Smarter Development Plan’;
  • Financial leadership for implementing solar;
  • Community engagement.
For additional information on the IBM project, please click here.

EU Ace project

At the same time as working on this IBM project, Dublin City Council has been working with Codema, Dublin’s energy agency, on the issue of community engagement and energy. This is very important, as it plays a crucial role in the public’s attitude towards the roll-out of solar energy in the city. Dublin City Council is currently involved in an EU project called Ace (Academy of Champions for Energy), which promotes the importance of renewable energy in the everyday life of citizens, businesses and local government – the idea is, if the right information is supplied, more people will use renewable energy. The project is being led by Dublin’s energy agency Codema, which will be working with the council to roll out an innovative energy-awareness programme in Dublin city’s public libraries in order to really connect with the public on the topic of solar energy. Energy in general is often a complex issue to communicate; Ace will address this information gap as it will educate the public on how the switch from conventional fossil fuels to renewable sources. This will be achieved by engaging with library visitors through educational workshops, practical demonstrations and relevant promotional material. As a result, Codema and Dublin City Council hope to encourage adults and children alike to consider renewables as a viable energy source as we move to the future. Coupled with this will be a dedicated renewable energy ‘hub’ in a number of Dublin city public libraries, which will feature an impressive resource material for extensive learning on solar energy and other renewable technologies. Ace is funded by the INTERREG IVB NWE programme and comprises of partners from Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. One of the main benefits of such a partnership is the collective expertise that can be gained in terms of promoting the uptake of renewable energy in each region. The Netherlands, for example, has a very similar climate to Ireland but is more advanced in terms of rolling out solar projects. Similarly, the UK partners have a proven track record in delivering successful community energy projects which can inspire replication in Ireland. This means that Dublin City Council can learn from this expertise and consider the ‘lessons learned’ when implementing its own solar initiatives.

Four main Ace themes

The four main themes that Ace explores are:
  • Innovation: Ace supports an enhanced level of innovation and competitiveness across north-west Europe by increasing the combined capabilities of sustainable energy champions;
  • Advocacy: Ace highlights the benefits of renewable energy to city authorities and communities and show that replication is both achievable and beneficial;
  • Partnership: Ace promotes the uptake of renewable energy by the development of a transnational academy which brings together public and private agencies to champion renewable energy;
  • Leadership: Ace empowers a whole range of stakeholder groups to become leaders in sustainable energy. By providing the important information, Ace will help these groups to champion renewable energy.
For further information on the project, visit The combination of the IBM report and ACE insight and funding has led Dublin City Council to go to tender for the installation of solar panels on Civic Offices in Wood Quay and on four public libraries. The installation on the Civic Offices is likely to consist of approximately 300 solar panels, generating over 70MWh of electricity (the equivalent of approximately 15 households). These projects are part of a wider sustainability and Smarter Cities agenda for Dublin City Council, where it seeks to position Dublin as an innovative and progressive city for the benefit of the economy, environment and society.