Parking Lots: Source of Renewable Energy?


Parking Lots: Source of Renewable Energy?

 The last-century industrial revolution established different transportation network infrastructures, helping U.S. economic growth. Over time, these networks have become very sophisticated, but expensive, due to high energy use of fossil fuels impacting our environment. 

The total transportation sector, cutting across all economic growth, is responsible for 71% of all U.S. fossil fuel impacts. The EPA attributes 56% contributions of GHG and CO2 directly to the transportation industry. 
According to the EPA’s report, since 1990, greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 7%, varying year to year due to price of fuel, GDP growth and other factors. The parking industry has its share of such emissions. 
How could parking lots operators combat this? Consider using the lots as sources of renewable energy, to reduce fuel use and emissions and supplementing energy requirements during peak hours.
Renewable energy for parking lots is a new concept to combat environmental impact. There are more than 825 million parking spaces in the U.S. for 275 million vehicles – on average, three spaces for one vehicle. That does not include parking spaces required for all 16 million trucks in the U.S., transporting goods to and from Mexico and Canada, using our interstate highways – under consideration by federal and state Departments of Transportation (DOT) 2015-2019 Vision. Characterizations, of these parking spaces are:
Parking spaces cover 30% to 40% of a city’s prime land and 10% to 15% of suburban land.
Some 5% to 10% of parking spaces are under a structure, mostly in urban areas.
Some 10% of total transportation CO2 emissions are due to
car parking.
A lack of a national parking database causes underutilization of spaces.
In spite of the above environmental impacts, more parking spaces are being planned due to increased vehicle sales – 15 million new vehicles in the U.S. every year – following outdated guidelines of parking requirement of occupied building. How to escape this monstrous environmental killing process? It’s high time for concrete actions based on study results presented in the article. 
The limited number of electric vehicles not using fossil fuels is expensive and cannot keep up the demand for cars in, for example, China, India, and Brazil. These vehicles require energy for charging – a new parking paradigm to keep up with technological changes – linking parking with ITS to reutilize the vast amount of parking spaces as a source of renewable energy for long-term sustainability. 
To explore the potential of renewable energy nationwide, we need an accurate count of open parking spaces in the U.S. For an effective estimate, spaces are grouped as airports, shopping malls, business parks/office complexes and hospitals for reasonable statistics of hidden resources of power generation, energy cost saving, and GHG reduction. 
Energy saving cost will depend on the available electricity rate. Reduced energy usage will depend on the sophistication of control systems and sensing devices installed in the total power infrastructure. 
According to the 2016 LimeLight by TwistHDM Corp. conference, at least 50% energy savings are possible if the control system can leverage occupancy sensing, daylight harvesting, event scheduling, and proper zoning to use energy only when, where and to what degree are needed. 
There are more than 19,700 airports In the U.S., according to the 2011-2015 National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems. Of these, 5,170 are open to the general public and 503 serve commercial flights. Parking spaces for 40 airports were estimated by the standard formula based on numbers of enplaned passengers (3 spaces per 1000). The largest airport (in Atlanta) has more than 138,000 spaces and the smallest one (in Santa Ana, CA) has close to 15,000 spaces. We will assume that 30% of these spaces are organized in open lots, with a cluster of at least 500 spaces or more for the convenience of shuttle transportations. Those open spaces could potentially generate 2.6 GWs or more, based on Lockheed Martin data.
Shopping Malls
The number of total parking spaces in a mall depends on the total square feet of the covered space for retail stores, with some designated handicapped spaces. There are more than 112,874 malls in U.S. There has been a steady 3% growth of shopping malls. Parking data for 40 large shopping malls have been compiled containing more than 150,000 spaces with the potential of 660 MWs energy source, raising it to several GWs if all shopping centers are considered. 
Business Parks/Office Complexes
There are too many variables to correctly asses the number of parking spaces under this category. Number of tenants, employees by tenant, type of business and locations, and the latest trend of square-foot-rented- per-employee determine the number of parking spaces. Also, parking spaces are shared by all tenants, with no fair allocations to all tenants. The C-Star Group conducted a study that shows some 84-billion-square-feet of office space in the U.S. A Montanan State University report reconfirmed a parking rate per thousand square feet of office space. Following gross facility area guidelines on parking requirements, one can estimate total parking spaces close to 84,096,377,832×3/1000 = 252,289,133. In this estimate, 3 parking spaces per 1,000 square foot building have been assumed – a conservative number. Even 30% of spaces in the open lot can generate close to 333 GWs. 
There are some 7,600 hospitals in the U.S. The top 100 have 86,100 beds. To meet regulations, these hospitals must provision a total of 2.2X86100 = 189,420 parking spaces. Some 30% open lots can potentially generate up to 0.3X189420X4.4/1000 = 250 MWs. 
Findings have been normalized per 100 parking spaces to calculate results. 
These findings reinforce my theory that parking spaces must be treated as national assets. This will increase the resurgence of U.S. manufacturing in renewable energy, proving the statement by 19th century poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson: “America is another name for opportunity’. 
One-third of the 825 million parking spaces in the U.S. will generate more than 1089 GWs energy, almost equivalent to the current U.S. power grid infrastructure capacity. As the cost of all cutting-edge technologies is coming down, it’s time to plan for the future by unlocking the hidden power of parking assets.
Amalendu Chatterjee, VP-Technology at EximSoft International, can be reached at
1) Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 2010 – Energy Information Monthly Review, U.S. Department of Energy, in Transportation Statistics Annual Report 2010.
2) EPA Climate Change Report, “Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” April 2016.
3) “ITS Strategic Plan -2015-2019” by ITS and Joint Program Office.
4) “Parking Infrastructure and the Environment” by Mikhail Chester, Arpad Horvath and Samer Madanat of Arizona State University; published in Access, No. 39, Fall 2011.
5) “The Trouble with Minimum Parking Requirements” by Donald Shoup, Department of Urban Planning, UCLA.
6) “Parking Part of ITS – Why and How?” by Amalendu Chatterjee, Parking Today magazine, March 2016.
7) “Lockheed Martin Parking Catches Sun Power,” LM Press Release, Oct. 20, 2015. 
8) “New Report Highlights Importance of Parking to Airport Operations,” IPI Press Release, May 8, 2012.
9) Statista – The Statistical Portal, at
10) Cresa Blog Atlanta at
11) Wikipedia. 
12) “Boosting Intelligence …” by Jason M. Jones, The Parking Professional magazine, February 2016. 
Article contributed by:
Amalendu Chatterjee
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