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Natalie Patton

Will Autonomous Vehicles Speed Up Energy Efficiency in Parking Garages 


Earlier this week, SpotHero, the Chicago-based parking space reservation app, announced it has outfitted 500 lots with sensors to accommodate autonomous vehicle parking. This could present new opportunities for energy efficiency in parking garages. Let's explore:

How it Works

The way it works, and has been working for SpotHero since 2012, is the human driver searches the app for a parking space, reserves and arrives at the garage at the predetermined time. With autonomous vehicle-enhanced lots, the self-driving car will interact with the app through an algorithm. License plate scanners and internet-connected meters facilitate the process.

SpotHero software HeroConnect handles payments. HeroConnect also makes parking data available to entities like car makers, ridesharing companies, cities. And presumably anyone who wants it.

With autonomous vehicle-equipped parking garages, SpotHero is especially targeting companies like Uber, Lyft, and Waymo. These are the cars that will be on the road most, requiring the most storage and re-charging stations.

On Physical Infrastructure

One key point to remember, SpotHero doesn't actually own the garages. Property owners partner with SpotHero to rent their spaces. With that, increased sensors and IoT devices can mean new opportunities for energy efficiency in parking garages. Aside from the SpotHero pitch that renting out those "underutilized" spaces can add up to $120,000 per year to operating budgets (depending on building type), using that parking data could provide ways to better manage energy use.

Right now, the main (possibly only) data points from the parking garage in the energy management system are lights. Now let's say the building owner is renting out five spaces through SpotHero in it's self-driving-car-enhanced garage. Data on when those spaces will be occupied and for how long can inform schedules on those lights. In a truly data-responsive world, each space would have its own light fixture with sensors. Those sensors would be integrated to the HeroConnect API. The light's schedule could then be automatically created when the spot is rented by the computer operating the car that will park there.

Energy Efficiency in Parking Garages - Strategies

To truly achieve energy efficiency in parking garages, additional strategies will be needed to handle the additional energy needed to charge all those self-driving cars. One would think those spaces would be more expensive to cover the cost. There could (perhaps should) be opportunities for energy management systems to track and bill that usage, especially at peak times.

Parking garages attached to retail properties considering this space-renting option should also consider the impact on mall traffic. It may become necessary to increase energy efficiency to offset losses in foot traffic of casual mall goers. Self-driving cars won't make last-minute stops at the food court.

Challenges aside, the more start-ups that enter the buildings space, even on the periphery like the parking lot, the more opportunities there are to harvest new data sets for smarter operations. Keeping an eye on these ancillary innovations could present big opportunities to early adopters. To us, this is just one more reason to partner with companies that employ programmers and data scientists to constantly inform new strategies for your buildings.

*Photo by James Loesch on Flickr.

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