A simple strategy to improve the efficiency of a ZnO-nanorod-based dye-sensitized solar cell (DSSC) by use of Au-encapsulated carbon dots (Au@C-dots) in the photoanode is presented. The localized surface plasmonic resonance of Au in the 500–550 nm range coupled with the ability of C-dots to undergo charge separation increase the energy-harvesting efficiency of the DSSC with ZnO/N719/Au@C-dots photoanodes. Charge transfer from N719 dye to Au@C-dots is confirmed by fluorescence and lifetime enhancements of Au@C-dots. Forster resonance energy transfer (FRET) from the gap states of ZnO nanorods to N719 dye is also ratified and the energy transfer rate is 4.4×108 s−1 and the Forster radius is 1.89 nm. The overall power conversion efficiency of the plasmonic and FRET-enabled DSSC with ZnO/N719/Au@C-dots as the photoanode, I2/I− as the electrolyte and multiwalled carbon nanotubes as the counter electrode is 4.1 %, greater by 29 % compared to a traditional ZnO/N719 cell.