Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) Station Locator - Partnerships, Progress and Future Plans (Text Version)

This is a text version of the video for Alternative Fuels Data Center (AFDC) Station Locator - Partnerships, Progress and Future Plans presented on Sept. 21, 2015.

Andrew Hudgins: Good afternoon everyone. This is Andrew Hudgins with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Thanks for joining us today on this webinar. Today we're going to be discussing the Department of Energy's Alternative Fueling Station Locator and in particular Partnerships, Progress and Future Plans and presenting – doing the bulk of the presenting – today is Stacy Noblet with ICF International. Many of you are very familiar with Stacy and so today we're going to take a slightly different take on talking about the Station Locator and we do a Station Locator webinar each year and we primarily take you through functionality of the tool, how to add new stations, how to find stations, et cetera and while we'll highlight a little bit of that today, some of the new data fields and improvements, we thought that we would like to take the time and use this opportunity to highlight some of the enhanced partnerships and outreach and collaboration that we've undertaken in the past couple of years and especially this year.
We've had a very pointed effort with Stacy and her team to reach out to our industry partners to understand the functionality of the locator, how that's working, what value is it providing to their stakeholders and their members and getting feedback from them on future enhancements, improvements, data fields, et cetera. So I hope that you like the approach and the content today. We'll be doing questions and answers at the end but feel free to type those in the chat pane and a quick note before I introduce Stacy is that if you can listen to this one of two ways, either through your computer or telephone. If you don't have sound through your computer I'd like to recommend that you do it through the telephone and when you click that you'll see the call-in number and the passcode in the pane. So that's enough of me. I'm going to turn it over to Stacy Noblet.
Again many of you know Stacy. She's been supporting the Clean Cities Program for a long time and really you know one of the people that can really help you understand the critical aspect and utility that the Station Locator can provide to you. So Stacy, off to you.
Stacy Noblet: Thanks, Andrew. Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for taking some time out of your day to join us for this webinar. Like Andrew said, most people on the line have likely heard about the Station locator and are familiar with its functionality but we wanted to give you a little bit more of a look behind-the-scenes of how we're collaborating with industry and other various stakeholders to make sure the information in the locator is up-to-date and robust and the interface itself is user-friendly. It's actually been almost exactly a year since the last webinar, specific to the Station Locator was held so I guess for a quick refresher as most of you probably know the locator tracks all commercially-available EPAct-designated alternative fuels so it's E85 Biodiesel, CNG, LNG, hydrogen, propane and of course electric-vehicle charging.
The locator does include public and private stations. The exception there is the residential fueling, which would apply to CNG and plug-in vehicles. We also don't include multiunit dwellings if they're limited to just residents and that's mostly for electric-vehicle charging as well. We receive new information and updates from those of the Clean Cities coordinators on the phone, stakeholders, industry publications, industry websites, various users, industry groups and we'll talk more about that collaboration today. And then a quick rundown of our process: We do reach out to all of the existing stations in the database on an annual basis so we're checking those at least once-a-year and the way things are going with most fuels these days it ends up being a lot more than that because we're hearing about a lot of new stations opening or upgrades or various updates of all kinds so we're in touch with a lot of you throughout the year, more than just that one check-in.
So to go ahead and get started I want to – just show you a quick overview. It's pretty short. It's a short webinar with a lot to cover. We do want to show you a little bit about what's new since the last time we talked, like I said, about a year ago to get into that industry collaboration and then open it up for questions. So what's new-and-improved? If you've been in the Station Locator lately, hopefully you've noticed some of the enhancements that the National Renewable Energy Lab team have put in place.
The big one I wanted to mention are the increased search options so now, depending on the fuel tank that you select from the main navigation team, you have a couple more options to then filter your results by. So for natural gas for example you can search by what type of vehicle can fit into the space at the station, fill pressure. On the electric-vehicle charging side you can actually search by network, search by connector and outlet and we've also added information about additional payment types, such as fleet cards. The station's data by-state, which is the – kind if you drop down from that "Locate Station" part of the top, that's where you can see the – compilation of all the counts together and those are now broken out by public and private stations and then the EVSE, the Electric Vehicle Charging Station are counted by location and by the number of ports. For those of you who have been kind enough to update us on new or changes to stations, you should now receive a confirmation email, an automatic email, kind of letting you know the process that we go through. We do confirm that information before data so it's something that's automatic so just to kind of help people out there and then one thing that we'll talk a little bit more about today is the fact that we have additional EVSE network data coming in directly to the Station Locator.
Of course all this comes together at the same time as a really significant milestone. Hopefully you saw the news that earlier this year we surpassed 20,000 alternative fueling stations across-the-country. That includes both public and private and that growth is a big deal. It not only demonstrates your hard work to get fueling infrastructure out there but also the collaborative relationships that we have kind of behind-the-scenes to make sure the Station Locator captures it all and that's what we want to focus on today. The other thing I want to mention quickly is that if you've been on the locator lately searching for propane stations in your state for example that number may look lower to you.
Have no fear. The stations are still in the locator themselves but we've worked with the industry to redefine the default search. Right now if you search by propane and add no other filters it actually shows you stations that are primary – considered primary stations – and I'll get into that a little bit the number itself just shows primary, the type to kind of go into the "More Search Options" to add all propane stations that are providing fuel to vehicles. This is a quick summary of the fuel-specific fields that I kind of mentioned. Again the goal here is that depending on what fuel you're looking for you can dig a little bit deeper rather than just kind of the basics for trying to give a little bit more information that's important to that particular industry and a lot of these decisions have been made in collaboration with the various fuel and vehicle industries.
The next thing we're going to get into is of course a collaboration, the reason why we wanted to get everyone on the phone today, and I will ask Andrew to kind of give us a quick overview of what we've been doing with NREL's leadership.
Andrew Hudgins: Sounds good. Thanks Stacy and we kind of wanted to highlight this because a lot of people think that Station Locator is just collecting data. You go to a website. You submit a form. We update the data and you know we go to something else and that's not really the full picture so to make sure that the Station Locator remains a critical tool for the alt-fuel industry and, as a side note, it's the number of most-used tool in the AFDC and of all websites and tools in the EERE Toolbox it is Number 4.
So it's really critical that we have enhanced collaboration with all industry partners and users to make sure that the data that we are collecting is what they need and it's provided to them in a format that is consistent with ways that they use it and consistent with new data-sharing trends, like the API's, which we'll get into, and so again I briefly mentioned at the beginning but earlier this year we sat down with our industry partners of all the alt-fuel groups to just talk through for three or four hours about what the locator shows and how we collect information of their interest and this slide here really shows that stakeholder group, that collaboration is really broad so as you're talking with your stakeholders, they're really trying to get a handle on where you fit in and how you fit in. We see the coordinators are part of our critical data providers and just collaborators to make sure that we're aware of what's going on in your areas. So there's a lot that goes into it on the back end, collaboration-wise, and if you ever have any questions about if we're working with Stakeholder X, Y and Z or a specific group, just reach out to us. We'd be happy to let you know if we are and what the level of collaboration looks like. So if there's someone that's a very key stakeholder in your area and you're wondering if they've been collaborating on the Station Locator we're happy to help with that conversation but, again, we wanted to put this in here just to give you and you know this is a nice visual to let you understand how much coordination really goes in to making this tool what it is.
Stacy Noblet: Great. Thanks Andrew so start off with electric-vehicle collaboration and really we are lucky enough to have involvement from every aspect of the industry. We're working with Electric Drive Transportation Association as kind of the voice of the industry of course, OEM vehicles and then manufacturers of the supply equipment itself, site hosts, whether it's private or public location, drivers themselves, there're some really passionate people out there just want to make sure that all the stations are accounted for and we really appreciate that information. Network providers, which we'll talk a little bit more about and then also we have PlugShare up here as an example of another website. We get a lotta questions on how we're collaborating with hosts of different websites and then, again, I'll toss it back to Andrew to talk a little bit more NREL's meetings lately with PlugShare.
Andrew Hudgins: Okay so we always get asked the question "how are you and PlugShare working together" or how are your websites different? So we don't lock ourselves in a room and just do our own thing, we collaborate, and so we've reached out to PlugShare during the past two years to better understand their process of station-data collection and how that aligns with DOE's approach and how we can work more closely together to ensure that the data provided through the AFDC Station Locator and their locator is consistent because we're working for the same goal to provide good information to potential EV drivers and current EV drivers and we really think that that coordination is critical at this point because many of you know that the industry is moving from the early-adopter phase into more mass-market and so you have think about how to make sure that people that are unfamiliar with these technologies understand how to find stations, the networking components of them, station availability, downtime, et cetera. So it's presented us a good opportunity to sit down with that company and understand what they do and inform them a bit more of what we do. And so PlugShare currently pulls information from the AFDC so through API on data downloads, they'll pull that information into their website but many of you that are familiar with that website know that users have more access to the data so they can update and place stations on that website, interact with other users on the station and providing feedback on the station, which we think is really great because as a federal-government website, we can't allow users to post comments or new stations without confirming that first. So the audiences are a little different in that respect that we have to maintain very strict data quality and we have a keen eye to that so I know a lot of you have asked can we provide photos, user-generated photos for the website, you know?
That gets a little murky about keeping everything appropriate and making sure that what is being provided is accurate so our conversations continue. So we want to just highlight that in particular because we get asked that question a lot about the differences - how we're partnering and interacting, but one key note since I have a lot of coordinators on the call when you do your updates to either meeting your support subcontracts or just updating our database with information do realize that if you send us a site that you found on PlugShare and it's not on the AFDC, we can't just take that information on face value. It still goes through the same rigor that we do with all the other fuels and that is needing a point of contact to confirm that that station is where it is, it's up-and-operating and the data that you found on that other site is accurate. So I say that to mean that just because you found it on their website that doesn't satisfy the requirements of providing the necessary data to make sure it goes into the AFDC. On the flipside if those stations that you do see on that site are part of network, which Stacy will highlight next, do know that we pull in data from those networks every 24 hours so it's likely in there and if it doesn't show in our database then there's usually a good reason that station is up but it might not be available-and-open to the public at this point, and we had a good example of that. And I don't mean to dwell too much on this point but I think it's worth noting that some new stations were put in at Universal Studios and those stations did show on the PlugShare site and then we got a lot of calls about why aren't they showing on the DOE site?
So we did some further investigation and that site host did confirm that they were installed but they were far away from making that available to the public so we want to discourage sending people to stations that aren't operational even though they may be installed so it was a good example of really highlighting the fact the rigor we put into the locator may sometimes be a little – you may feel it's a little – slower, overbearing at times but it's for those examples and other reasons why we make sure that we go through our data methodology and collection methods. So I think that's all I have to say about that example, Stacy.
Stacy Noblet: Very good. Okay well like Andrew said, we're going to kind of merge into a conversation about network providers and if you were on the webinar last year, we reported that the Station Locator Database taps into the API – and API stands for Application Programming Interface – for several of the largest EVSE networks. What that does is it basically enables us to – like Andrew said – automatically download the data that those networks are providing on a nightly basis and that all occurs behind-the-scenes automatically but even though the word automatic is in the process, there's actually a couple of steps that we need to go through to get to that point and I want to kind of outline those to lift the curtain so to speak. So first we have to make sure that a network actually has an API and is willing to provide access and NREL works through data-use agreements and other legal fun that can take a lot of time to make sure that everybody is on the same page with regard to what data we're receiving, how it's presented and so on. Once we finally have full access to the data, we go through a rigorous process of crosschecking the incoming dataset with what is in the AFDC database at the time and the goal of that is to identify matches, which are then pulled from the database so when the new API data comes in it doesn't create duplicates, it doesn't look like there're double the stations in a certain area and so on.
We work with the network as far as the data coming up at that time rather than waiting until the database is populated so that we can kind of just make sure everything is clean ahead of time and it doesn't end there. The ICF team performs quarterly reviews of the data that comes in from the network and we try to provide some feedback based on those discrepancies so, for example, from all of you we may hear that a certain station, the address is off or the station name isn't helping people find it, for example. That's feedback that we then provide to the network providers on a quarterly basis. You might see again addressing, building members as a station name and so on. We try to highlight those.
Unfortunately there are some limits as to what the network providers can do with the data they're receiving from site hosts. In a lot of cases the site hosts have complete control over what their station's name is listed as but we do what we can to communicate that with the network provider. If you do come across stations that look strange or aren't including all the information, we do ask that you reach out to the networks directly with questions or specific changes and we can help put you in touch by giving you our point of contact there. You're also welcome to reach out to us, and I'll put our contact information up at the end, but please understand that we cannot make the change directly to the data that's coming in from an API and it's a little bit of a tradeoff, you know? We're getting all this great data automatically but unfortunately we can't manipulate it like we can the others so a little limitation but we do what we can to kind of help feed that back to the network.
This slide shows what networks we are receiving data from today and more coming soon. We're working with for example GE and Tesla to kind of get something in place for their stations as well. So moving on and changing gear a little bit I want to talk about our collaboration with the propane industry. This is really spearheaded with the Propane Education and Research Council of course and NPGA, the National Propane Gas Association, as the two main industry groups there. The notable kind of effort we want to talk about is several years ago we formed a working group with many representatives from across the propane industry so I've listed the associations, the marketers, the equipment-and-vehicle manufacturers and then the station owners and operators themselves whether it's a fleet or another company. We really wanted this group to kind of serve as a sounding board for any changes, improvements that we make to the Station Locator itself as well as the actual data-collection methodologies and that's lead us to what I've mentioned before: The Primary Station Categories.
One of the things that the industry group is focusing on right now for anyone doing work with propane right now is really the user experience at propane stations. A consistent fueling experience is important as more and more stations and vehicles are deployed, similar to those of us who drive gasoline vehicles you kind of expect the same setup and the same deal every time you go. Alternative fuels may not get there, across-the-board in every case but the propane industry, just like many of the other fuels, are kind of working on that, working on improving that. So allow me to present Exhibits A, B, C and D. These stations all provide fuel for vehicles. They are all in the Station Locator but, as you can imagine, a user of a vehicle – you know fleets or driver, whatever the case may be – will probably have a very different experience depending on where they go of those four stations so to help fleets and other users we have worked with the propane industry to use the Station Locator as a way to communicate some of the differences that one might find at a station, which takes us, again, the primary and secondary station categories.
Primary is pretty much meant to indicate that a station is setup to fuel vehicles as some slice of its primary business. It may not be the Number 1 source of income by any means but they cater to vehicles in some way and the criteria that we've worked with the industry to develop are listed here so to be a primary station right now we are looking for stations that have typical or expanded business hours so Monday-Friday, 9-5 kind of thing is fine. They offer vehicle-specific pricing, which we're looking for, you know? The discounted pricing lower than a gallon of gasoline and they accept credit cards. That's just something that fleets need to be able to work with.
The secondary stations, which are kind of the balance of the database are stations that have the ability to fuel vehicles but it's not necessary their primary purpose. They may have limited hours. So a good example of this is we'll call stations and they say, "Sure we can fuel a vehicle but you have to be here between 8 and 9 when a driver is here to serve you" or they don't provide that vehicle fuel-specific pricing. So the hours are something that's just limiting to, again, a fleet or a driver to have to kind of work around those parameters so these are the secondary and primary designations here. In the future – again this is an ongoing thing that we're doing with the industry, in the future – there may be some sort of equipment-related requirement so, for example, it may need to be a – I don't even want to get into specifics. I don't want to plant any seeds necessarily but we're open to feedback on what would make a primary station and what would kind of help, again, communicate that consistent user experience and I mentioned at the beginning, this summer, and we'll modify the Station Locator so that primary stations are the default search.
So if you're looking for any station that fuels vehicles just use the "More Search Options" to add secondary after all the stations are there and, of course, to be in the Station Locator, it has to be able to fuel vehicles. So next we'll move away from propane and talk a little bit about ethanol, more specifically E85. As you probably know the fueling stations and the AFDC are 85 stations. We do indicate if a station has mid-level blends but it must have – it must provide – E85 to be listed in the AFDC Locator. We've been working with the Renewable Association for many years to stay up-to-speed on the 85 stations across-the-country.
We get kind of real-time information from some of their mobile apps for example and from the RFA staff that we then – you know similar to what Andrew was saying with EVSE from PlugShare, we then – kind of go through our vetting process. Probably most notably that I want to mention today is that we worked closely with the RFA team to compare That database puts us to the Station Locator Database. In the early 2015, RFA actually took over, which was great news for the industry. So it was a good opportunity to collaborate and to kind of reconcile those 2 datasets. So as a result we made changes to the AFDC, including adding some stations that we were missing and similarly on the other side, RFA is working through station updates and additions on their site as well and we'll continue that relationship to better sync the datasets, you know? We get questions about you know can we just use one of them between AFDC and the We recognize that the RFA site serves a different purpose.
It provides fueling prices, something that the AFDC does not do so you know will exist and will be a great tool to the industry. We just want to make sure that it includes the up-to-date information that we have in the AFDC. And finally we want to spend some time on natural gas. We have a long-time relationship NGVAmerica in particular. That organization has been an excellent partner and driver behind increasing the number of fueling stations both across-the-country and from the AFDC and, more recently, we worked NGVAmerica to help them communicate that growth. Some of you may have received information directly from NGVA. I believe it's kind of a member service that provides some statistics about station growth on a monthly basis. It shows just a breakdown of existing and planned stations, changes since the previous month changes over time, more broadly, and then what share of the stations are actually public or private and that's an interesting metric to look at because it's changed over time.
There are much more stations open to the public. So we work with NGVA to make sure they have what they need to look at that information on a monthly basis and similar to what we've done with the propane industry, we're working on developing sort of a working-group sounding board of sorts to help inform some of planned enhancements that are specific to natural gas. So you'll likely see more on that in the future. I also want to mention and it comes up with natural gas just because we're asking so many questions when we call stations, I also want to mention how important our individual points of contact are, you know? Again like I said, we contact them at least once-a-year.
We're asking them very pointed questions, bugging them for a lot of information and we always appreciate the patience and a lot of times enthusiasm with which they're willing to give the information to make sure our database is up-to-date. So in addition to our sort of higher-level, industry-wide coordination through NGVA, we really value our relationship with fleet managers, the fuel providers, the station developers and operators and this, of course, goes across all the alternative fuels. And in return we certainly want open and honest feedback about how the Station Locator can be improved and we really try to implement those changes that we hear from all of you. So with that we're kind of ending a little early and hoping leaving plenty of time for questions but you know this summary here, of course, the takeaway is that there's a lot of collaboration going on behind-the-scenes of the Station Locator and we will absolutely continue to work with these and other industry partners. You'll notice that we didn't cover a couple of alternative fuels just in the interest of time but we've got relations and we've got great relationships throughout the biodiesel and hydrogen industries, for example.
These relationships are certainly key to keeping the database up-to-date. I know I speak on behalf of the ICF team but we couldn't do this job without all of the people who are working on the ground and helping us out, giving us the local perspective. So thank you to all of you. If you do have questions or if you ever want to report station changes, additions, there are the submission forms through the Station Locator itself but you're also welcome to reach out directly. The Technical Response Service is kind of an overarching information service through the Clean Cities Program. It also serves the Alternative Fuels Data Center so you're welcome to reach out with that email address. The phone number is a voicemail box.
We'll get back to you quickly. I've listed Andrew's contact information as well as mine. We're both happy to answer any questions you might have but I think we covered it here or the Station Locator more broadly. So with that I'll hand it back over to Andrew, in case there are any questions that came in and I guess we can open it up to any questions on the phone.
Andrew Hudgins: Great Stacy that was a wonderful overview and just kind of highlight a few of the things, you know? She said at the end we value the input of you, the coordinator and stakeholders, so don't hesitate. I know I do receive emails from folks with suggestions and stuff and, again, we really want to make sure that the tool – well you know all the functionality about the tool and that that functionality is really what you as a coordinator are looking for and your stakeholders and you just have a sense of comfort with all those different features of the locator. So if you have any questions you can either type them in to the "Questions" pane or if you want to click your little – the little – hand thing then we can unmute your line. Everyone's muted now but we'd be happy to unmute you if you have a question.
If no questions are asked we'll spend the next 20 minutes with me just singing a few of my favorite songs so I'd encourage you to ask some hard-hitting questions. Not really I won't sing. That would be a bad thing. Maybe as we're waiting, Stacy do you want to maybe highlight some of the requests that we get for EVSE's historical stuff and maybe what purposes folks, researchers, stakeholders are using that type of information for and I think that that's a good example of our relationship in collaboration with those different stakeholders?
Stacy Noblet: Sure yeah absolutely. Yeah I think we could kind of flip our collaboration slide with arrows going out, away from the locator and point to all the great organizations that are using the data that we know of. A great example is navigation companies to populate GPS tools in vehicle-navigation systems and then sort of all that vein, AAA, the largest auto club in the US is using it to give information on their TripTik's and some of their other resources, member resources. That's one example. We get a lot of questions, requests from academia, those doing research, you know, kind of wanting to show station growth over time.
EVSE is certainly the hot request lately but that and natural gas I'd say – I'm just giving some of the uptick in stations more recently. Other groups you know state agencies I guess as a representative kind of the policy side, they're trying to show or demonstrate either impact to their policy or trying to lead folks in the direction of something new. So those are certainly some of the key groups that are using the data. There's a lot of others out there. Of course I mentioned a lot of the industry groups that we're partnering with are pushing information out to their user base as well I'm pointing them to the AFDC. So then if any of you coordinators or the stakeholders on the phone are interested in using the data, I hope that we've made it clear that it's available, free, readily accessible through the data downloads tool if you want to kind of get a snapshot or if you've got programming staff or are savvy yourself that API is available as well.
Andrew Hudgins: Great. Thanks Stacy and I wanted to highlight that just because it really – those type of organizations that are looking for data really kind of drives home the point of data quality so that's why we really depend upon coordinators and stakeholders as active participants to update the Station Locator but with quality data and understanding what that data looks like because if EPA and NHTSA are working together to see how CAFE is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions based on the deployment of public-charging infrastructure, that's pretty heady stuff and so they need to make sure that the data they're working with is quality. So kudos to coordinators and your stakeholders for making sure that the locator has the best database of all fuel-station locations out there. So without your participation we wouldn't be at this point so think of you as an active and ongoing participant and collaborator of both sending us information, asking us questions and making sure the data is getting to the right people. So I do have one question, all right, so we had a question on the plans for the Station Locator to highlight corridors on interstates so we do have a Plan A Route feature on the station locator, which you can find fairly easily on "Find," you know right beside "Find a Station."
That said we do understand that there are some limitations with "Find A Route" such as you being able to drag-and-drop your route, you know akin to Google Maps that you'd be used to or other mapping tools that you use. And so that is part of a list of future improvements that we have identified and with feedback from coordinators mostly that they would like to see and so we're hopeful that, in 2016, we'll be able to start to implement some of those improvements through the locator and we'll certainly keep you up-to-date on that but if you do have questions on the "Finding the Route" functionality, again you can contact TRS, myself or Stacy or if you would like some help identifying coordinators through mapping capabilities, you can reach out to us as well. We're happy to use the data that's in the locator and provide it to you that you need, if you just can't quite get it through the locator itself. And I don't see any other questions so I was joking about the singing so we'll let you all go a little bit early but, Stacy, definitely we wanted to thank you for the presentation and your support of the locator and, as noted, we're always here to answer your questions so if you think of something after the webinar ends, don't hesitate to reach out to us and I hope everyone has a great week.
Stacy Noblet: Thank you everyone.