In the Fair Play community cafe in Ringsend on Tuesday, Joe Donnelly says he is delighted that Ringsend and Irishtown have been selected as the “decarbonising zone” for Dublin City.
As is Fergal Purcell, who’s also in the cafe. “We think this is great,” he says. “There are loads of opportunities in this area.”
With Megan Kuster, the two run the Ringsend Irishtown Sustainable Energy Community, which aims to engage and inform people about ways to reduce their carbon emissions.
That Ringsend and Irishtown have been picked as a neighbourhood for targeted climate action is mentioned in the draft development plan, the blueprint drawn up for the city that lays out a vision and some rules for how the city should develop, which is currently out for public consultation.
There are no clear targets yet but decarbonising zones will likely mean an increased emphasis on reducing carbon emissions through things like retrofitting homes, reducing traffic, increasing the supply of renewable energy, and greening initiatives.
Dublin City Council didn’t respond to queries about where it is at with its plans.
But, the draft development plan says it is working with Codema, Dublin’s energy agency, and also with the Dublin Metropolitan Climate Action Regional Office (CARO), on an implementation plan for demonstrator projects “harnessing a range of energies technologies and initiatives”.
What Is a Decarbonising Zone?
In February last year, the Department of Housing wrote to councils across Ireland instructing them to select a decarbonising zone within their area, as part of their climate action plans.
The decarbonising zone “will become the focus for a range of climate mitigation, adaptation and biodiversity measures”, says a spokesperson for the Department of the Environment.
“This process will include the identification of projects and outcomes – that will contribute to achieving our national climate targets,” they said.
The details of what the targets are, and the schemes available to achieve them, haven’t been worked out yet, said the spokesperson.
Measures could include greening, retrofitting, introducing sustainable-energy systems and increasing alternatives to cars – among other initiatives.
“A Decarbonising Zone can also explore the co-benefits of climate adaptation, and examine a range of local measures such as climate proofing, afforestation, green and blue infrastructure, reducing heat island effects, citizen awareness and behavioural change,” says abriefing paper for councils by Codema.
“It is really exciting for Ringsend and Irishtown,” says Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne. “It was probably selected because there is such a successful sustainable energy community there.”
There are already plans underway to increase cycling infrastructure in the Ringsend area, she says.
The decarbonising zone should mean access to more grants through the council’s Climate Action Plan, says Byrne.
Elsewhere in Europe, some cities have made considerable progress in reducing carbon emissions, she says.
So she tabled a motion as part of the ongoing process to finalise the next development plan that each local electoral area in the city should designate a decarbonising zone by 2028, she says.
That’s made it into the draft city development plan, she says.
The Smaller Things
“Cafes are the new pubs,” says Donnelly, sitting in the Fair Play community cafe.
The wall behind him is papered with front pages of old newspapers, and there is an old-fashioned phone box on one wall and a table and chairs stuck to the ceiling.
The cafe is like a pub in the sense that people talk about all kinds of things, he says.
“People come in and say, ‘What’s the story?’” he says.
When they do, Donnelly may show them the digital smart meter up by the food counter, that tracks how much electricity the solar panels on the roof have created, and the carbon emissions that were saved.
Sometimes that sparks their interest. Not everyone can afford deep retrofits to make their homes more energy efficient, so it’s best to start on the shallow end, says Donnelly.
“Without blowing a hole in your bank account you can get bespoke sustainable energy equipment that will pay you back,” he says.
“We all have to tackle this journey,” he says. “Now is the time to get on board.”
Purcell, who with Donnelly and the others runs the Ringsend Irishtown Sustainable Energy Community, works in sustainable energy.
He says he is involved in the local GAA club, which has reduced its electricity bills by 70 percent. It took solar panels, LEDs, and new rules about switching things off, he says.
“That didn’t require a massive retrofit,” says Donnelly. “There are relatively low-cost initiatives with a high return.”
It is best to try to inspire thousands of people to make small changes that they can afford, he says, rather than focusing on deep retrofits that most people can’t afford.
There is a scarcity of solar panels in Ringsend, says Donnelly, and he thinks that education projects are needed to let people know that solar panels are “non-invasive”, he says.
Some people fear getting the panels installed could damage their roof, he says.
Purcell has taken people on walking tours of the area to inform them about sustainable-energy solutions. The group plans to host community information events and a forum too, he says, to give people a chance to meet others who have invested in renewable energy solutions.
The Poolbeg incinerator is supposed to be a waste-to-energy facility and Dublin City Council is responsible for the district heating part of that system, says Donnelly.
At the moment, the plan is that the heating system will be rolled out first for new homes planned for the Irish Glass Bottle site and George’s Dock, with an extension to Ringsend planned for later, he says.
The Ringsend Irishtown Sustainable Energy Community has made written submissions requesting that Ringsend should be included in the first phase. If not, Donnelly fears the scheme will never be expanded to include them.
He hopes Dublin City Council announcing the decarbonising zone means they may be considering starting the district heating in Ringsend. “It would be a fantastic success story if that happened,” says Donnelly.