July 2009


Innovations in Comfort, Efficiency, and Safety Solutions.

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Park It Here
Smart and Green Parking Garages

  Jim Sinopoli PE, RCDD, LEED AP
Managing Principal,
Smart Buildings

Contributing Editor

"If at first, the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it"
Albert Einstein


Parking facilities seem dull, almost an afterthought for a building. Parking facilities are really critical because people need to get to and from the building. Sure mass transit is an alternative, but when you take a look at the staggering numbers of vehicles and drivers in the USA or the growth in vehicles and drivers worldwide, one realizes the scope, size and importance of parking facilities for buildings. Last year the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics calculated 204 million vehicles and 191 million drivers in the US. China, except for 2008, has had double-digit growth of vehicle sales since 1999, including a 22-percent jump in 2007. In India, the growth rate of passenger cars in the year 2007 was 13.5%. Parking is a global issue with the growth of automobile sales in developing countries being a sign of rising incomes and the fact that the mobility provided by vehicles is a factor in economic development. The need for parking is also agnostic as to the fuel or power source of the vehicles; regardless of how the vehicles are powered, we’ll still end up with the same number of cars to park.

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There are essentially two types of current parking facilities: surface parking and a traditional self-park multi-story parking ramp. Until recently a smart parking garage was either a surface parking lot or a traditional multi-story parking ramp outfitted with sensors to gather data on the number and location of available parking spaces and providing that information to incoming drivers via digital signage. What is emerging now is a smart parking structure that is a fully automated robotic structure, a radical departure from surface lots and parking ramps.

Automated Parking

Automated Parking

What is automated parking? It basically means an automated system that parks and retrieves cars without any human intervention. The driver of the incoming vehicle to an automated facility parks the car on a pallet or a conveyor belt, gets out of the car and an automated system moves the car to a storage space for parking. Upon the driver’s return to the garage, the system retrieves the car from storage and brings it to the driver, a process that can be accomplished in about 90 seconds.

The underlying systems to move and store the cars vary. They include rack systems, robotic systems and pallet systems. The process of parking or retrieving cars is managed by a control system typically comprised of sensors and programmable logic controllers (PLCs). The control systems are evolving to greater sophistication with sensors that weigh each vehicle and take its height, width and length measurements, video capture of the vehicle’s exterior prior to entering the facility and surveillance cameras within the facility so patrons can check on their vehicle.

The brief history of automated parking is one of false starts and misunderstandings. The perception is that automated parking is expensive to construct and only makes sense in very dense metropolitan areas such as downtown New York or Tokyo. It now is becoming apparent that automated parking has a different business and energy model than both surface parking and parking ramps. In addition, several manufacturers have now entered the marketplace, all with a slightly different method to move and park the cars.

So what is the advantage of letting an automated conveying system park cars rather than a human being? The change in the way vehicles are parked also changes the capital and operating costs of parking. It may also provide a ‘greener” parking structure, with improved energy efficiency and resource sustainability.

Energy and Sustainability Impacts

Energy and Sustainability ImpactsParking garages have attained LEED certification, the first being the parking facility at the Santa Monica California Civic Center. That facility used solar photovoltaic arrays on the roof to provide shading and an on-site renewable energy source. It used recycled materials, low-VOC paints and finishes, a storm water treatment system, greywater harvesting for landscaping and on-site facilities and glazing on the building envelope to decrease HVAC loads. In addition, it provides spaces for electric vehicles and free bicycle storage. Being the first to be certified in this type of building use is commendable and demonstrated leadership.

Automated parking facilities could incorporate all the features of the Santa Monica project, but could also go beyond as they use less land, and need little ventilation and lighting which are the two major energy consumption systems:

Land – The amount of land used affects sustainability issues such as development density and maximizing open space. The automated parking structure uses less land and can park the same number of cars in a much smaller parking structure. The automated parking facility can park 2 to 3 times the number of cars as a same sized multi-story parking facility. The space requirements are reduced because the cars are stored door-to-door and bumper-to-bumper and the storage area is not accessed by the public. The cars are parked much closer together, the space between cars and the ceiling heights for parking are less because no drivers or pedestrians are walking or getting into cars in the storage area. Because the public does not have access to the storage area there is no need for public stairs or elevators.

No Need for Ventilation or HVAC – The cars are stored without their engines running, so there is no need for ventilation or HVAC.

The Amount of Lighting is Reduced – Again, no drivers or pedestrians are ever in the storage area, so lighting is reduced to emergency lighting and lighting required for system maintenance.

Cost Differences

Cost comparisons of the three different parking approaches, surface parking, multi-story self-parking and automated parking systems are based on a 100 parking space facility with analysis done by MIT Sloan School of Management in 2008:

• The surface parking has the highest “hard costs” (construction cost plus land cost) because it requires the most land thus the highest land cost, however it has the lowest construction cost (basically surface paving or preparation).

• The traditional multi-story self-park uses only 25% of the land required for surface parking (assuming a 4-story structure), so land costs are less expensive than surface parking. However the concrete structure needed is the most expensive construction cost. Still the hard cost (land and construction costs) for a 100-space multi-story self-park facility is about 15% less than surface parking.

• The automated parking system uses 27% less land than the traditional multi-story ramp and 82% less than the surface parking. Its construction cost is slightly less than the traditional garage (no stairwells, elevators, ventilation, etc.) The hard costs for the automated garage are less that both the traditional multi-story self-park and the surface parking.

• For a 100-space parking facility, the hard costs for a traditional multi-story parking facility are about 8-9% below surface parking. Hard costs for the automated parking facility is about 22% less than surface parking and about 14% than traditional parking garages.

• The total annual operational and maintenance costs for the different approaches, on a per parking space basis, is $200 per year per space for the surface parking, $280 per year per space for the automated parking and $800 per year per space for the traditional parking garage.

Automated parking solutions have significant capital costs, operating costs, energy usage and sustainability advantages. The market has evolved with a number of manufacturers now offering systems. Expect these systems to increase their penetration into the parking facility market.

For more information about smart buildings, technology design or to schedule a Continuing Education program, email me at jsinopoli@smart-buildings.com


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