We've all been there: Whether the night before a major holiday, a Saturday at the local mall or in a busy area of town, finding a parking space can sometimes take an age.

Then, when you think you've found a spot, you pull up to it only to find some comedian has parked a Smart Fortwo or similarly tiny vehicle in there, hidden by the cars next to it. Cue another ten minutes of space-finding.

The subtext to all this is that you're wasting energy--fuel, money, time--doing something that could be so much better managed. And with smart parking and peak parking, that's exactly what is starting to happen.

In fact, this broad spread of "sustainable parking" is growing rapidly, and each step towards smarter parking is saving more gas and boosting the efficiency of every journey.

As Navigant Research reveals, it's an industry expected to pull in $350 million in annual revenue by 2020, up from around $60 million today.

Some of that revenue will come from new peak parking tarriffs and dynamic pricing--perhaps not a popular idea, but one that, when connected to a grid of smart meters and mobile parking apps, should help manage congestion at peak times. Think of it this way: If you know the parking lot is full before you get there, you'll not spend time driving around looking for a spot, nor waste the extra fuel driving to a different parking lot.

Paul Wessel, executive director of the Green Parking Council, told Navigant Research that the parking industry is treating spaces "more like airplane seats"--it's more cost-effective for both customers and service providers if they're filled efficiently. A full parking lot is, in effect, an over-sold flight.

It's possibly even more important for electric vehicles, though this is one area in which electric cars are ahead of the game.

Plenty of services use apps to show users where a free charging point is, and many EV owners know exactly where they'll be parking before they even set off.

If such a system can be expanded to every vehicle--and it's in the pipeline--perhaps those long, frustrating searches will be a thing of the past. Better still, you'll have saved a little gas.


Follow GreenCarReports on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+