Debra Eng, Ancillary Energy Manager, SHCS and A&R

As we approach the winter season, temperatures are dropping and daylight hours are decreasing. And that means most of us are turning up the heat and leaving the lights on longer, at work and at home.

At UBC, building energy supply—for heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) and hot water—is a major contributor to the university’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. So how do we reduce the amount of energy our buildings use and help meet the university’s ambitious emissions reduction targets?

That’s a challenge that Debra Eng works on every day.

Debra is the Ancillary Energy Manager for Student Housing and Community Services (SHCS) and Athletics and Recreation (A&R) at UBC. She’s one of a handful of engineers on UBC’s Energy Conservation and Innovation team who are embedded within different operational units at UBC.

“Campus truly is a living lab; we have a lot of opportunities to pilot unique projects and contribute to research and learning that can be applied around the world.” – Debra Eng, Ancillary Energy Manager

With a Bachelor of Applied Science in Engineering from UBC and a certificate in Sustainable Engineering from BCIT, plus plenty of industry experience, she has held this position at UBC since it was created in 2018. During that time, she has initiated many projects to help reduce and improve our overall energy use in SHCS-managed buildings, but particularly our high carbon energy, such as natural gas, which contributes significant greenhouse gas emissions.

“A big focus for me is on our utilities—electricity from BC Hydro, natural gas from FortisBC and UBC’s Hot Water District Energy System,” she says, “and looking at ways to optimize those resources while also maintaining comfort and safety for our student residents and guests.”

Find out how you can help

Get Debra’s energy saving tips for the workplace—and find out why it’s important for all of us to help reduce our energy use.

Getting personal: Five questions for Debra

  • What brought you to engineering? I loved the technical aspects of engineering—and how it goes hand in hand with sustainability.
  • Where did you grow up? Right here in Vancouver.
  • Do you have any pets? My sweet dog, Sophie.
  • Where have you travelled to—and where would you like to go next? I’ve travelled to the Mediterranean, London, Paris and Hawaii. Next, I would like to travel to Korea, Singapore and Australia.
  • How do you spend your time outside of work? Playground hopping with my family, bike riding, home renos (i.e., playing with tools!), sewing and baking.

Reducing energy consumption

There is a wide range of methods, Debra explains, that she can use to reduce our energy consumption— whether a building receives energy from hydroelectric power, natural gas or UBC’s district energy—including:

  • Lighting and fixture replacements: switching to LED lighting and low-flow plumbing fixtures (i.e., shower heads and bathroom or kitchen sink aerators).
  • System automation: adding demand control HVAC and lighting systems, which automatically adjust based on whether a space is occupied, temperature changes and other factors.
  • Upgrading and optimizing control systems: finding ways to make Building Management Systems (BMSs), which monitor and control building systems, operate more efficiently—or to install entirely new BMSs in older buildings.
  • Heat recovery: modifying HVAC systems to allow heat to be absorbed from one location and injected into another, where it is needed.

Those are a few of the lower-cost and lower-barrier methods that, at the scale of our overall operation, can make a significant impact.

But Debra is also involved in a number of major decarbonization projects, which are making an even bigger impact.

Debra Eng reviewing data in the Skyspark building energy platform

Debra Eng, Ancillary Energy Manager, SHCS, reviewing building energy data in Skyspark, a platform that tracks energy and water data and helps improve building performance

Decarbonization projects

Decarbonization is the process of reducing high-carbon energy sources (using the methods mentioned above) or switching to low-carbon energy sources to significantly reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—for example, replacing old natural gas-fired ventilation units with new electric heat pumps.

To determine which projects to pursue, Debra considers a few factors, such as:

  • which equipment and systems are reaching the end of their life and are due for replacement,
  • new technology or equipment that’s available on the market,
  • and funding sources or rebate programs offered by entities such as CleanBC, Plug In BC, BC Hydro or FortisBC.

Completed decarbonization projects

A few of the decarbonization projects completed to date, include:

  • Connected Ponderosa Commons East buildings to UBC’s District Energy System. Annual CO2 reduction: 175 tonnes.
  • Replaced gas-fired ventilation units at Marine Drive residence with electric heat pump units. Annual CO2 reduction: 483 tonnes.
  • Replaced gas-fired water heaters at West Coast Suites hotel with CO2 heat pumps. Annual CO2 reduction: 25 tonnes.
  • Connected Totem Park Commonsblock to the District Energy System (to replace gas-fired boilers): Annual CO2 reduction: 200 tonnes.

Electric Vehicle (EV) Fleet

Two years ago, Debra led a project to install 10 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations in the warehouse at Thunderbird residence—with support from Plug In BC.

This past year, SHCS Facilities and Building Services also purchased five Ford E-Transit electric cargo vans and three Toyota Mirai hydrogen fuel cell cars for their fleet, with plans to fully electrify the fleet by 2030.

Notably, the hydrogen vehicles will also soon be able to refuel at UBC’s new hydrogen hub, next to the Thunderbird Parkade.

Future decarbonization projects

A selection of upcoming projects in 2024, include:

  • Replace gas-fired Make Up Air Units at Marine Drive (buildings 4 and 6) with electric Air-Source Heat Pumps. Anticipated annual C02 reduction: 279 tonnes.
  • Replace a bank of heat recovery pumps at Marine Drive residence with a larger capacity heat pump and storage: Anticipated annual CO2 reduction: 55 tonnes.

To tie all of these energy conservation and decarbonization projects together, Debra is currently working on a Strategic Energy Management plan, which will help keep us on track toward UBC’s climate targets.

“My hope is that our work to reduce the carbon footprint of SHCS, A&R and UBC operations can serve as a model for other institutions and organizations who want to do the same,” Debra says, “but that it also inspires our students and residents to build on what we’ve learned and investigate new ideas and technologies.”

Lyle Cheng, Refrigeration Tehnician, SHCS, servicing the HVAC system on the q̓əlɬaləməcən leləm̓ (Orca House) rooftop

Lyle Cheng, Refrigeration Technician, SHCS, servicing the HVAC system on the q̓əlɬaləməcən leləm̓ (Orca House) rooftop

New member of the Facilities and Building Services team:

Lyle Cheng, Refrigeration Technician

With the increased adoption of heat pumps across our buildings, new and old, which use refrigerant fluids for heating, cooling and heat recovery, the Facilities and Building Services team created a new Refrigeration Technician position last year, bringing Lyle Cheng on board in December 2022.

Debra explains that it’s critical to have a skilled refrigeration technician, such as Lyle, on the team to support the ongoing management, maintenance, operation and optimization of our heat pumps—to keep everything working as reliably and efficiently as possible.

She adds that this role is even more critical now that Brock Commons North has opened. Different from our other new buildings, each unit in North has its own individual heat pump, rather than a central rooftop unit.

Residence x A&R Mural in Totem Park Fitness Room
Residence x A&R Mural in Totem Park Fitness Room

How you can help

With all the major projects Debra is spearheading, you might wonder: is there anything I can do?

There sure is!

And even if you’re using energy from a renewable, hydroelectric source, it’s still important to make efforts to reduce your energy consumption, which frees up electricity to be used for the projects mentioned above—meaning we can work within our current capacity, rather than having to increase energy production or supply to campus.

Debra adds that it’s especially important to consider our energy use during the fall and winter, so we don’t need to restrict energy use or top up energy production with natural gas—a high-carbon source.

Debra’s energy saving tips!

At work

  • Lower the set point of the temperature in your space (if you are able to)—in particular, when the space is not occupied.
  • Avoid increasing the set point of the temperature too high or low: 21 degrees Celsius is a comfortable temperature for the majority of people.
  • During the summer, turn off the cooling / air conditioning in your space at the end of the day.
  • In early fall and late spring, turn off the cooling / air conditioning if it is cooler outside.
  • Turn off the lights when there’s enough daylight from any windows.
  • Turn off the lights when you leave a room.
  • Try a warm drink instead of turning on/up the heat.
  • Dress for the weather and make sure to layer your clothing, so you can adapt throughout the day.
  • In the summer, close the blinds to any windows to keep interior spaces cool.
  • Close any windows when the heating or cooling is on.

At home

In addition to some of the methods you can use at work, at home you can also:

  • Use cold water to do laundry.
  • Take shorter, lower-temperature showers.
  • Use low-flow water fixtures.
  • Change your lights to LED.
  • If your building allows it, consider using a heat pump for heating and cooling. Incentives and rebates are available!

Get more energy saving tips and information from UBC Sustainability.

Learn more


Learn more about all the sustainability and climate action taking place across Student Housing and Community Services.