Solar-powered EV conquers Africa

A SPIRIT of adventure has led a pair of intrepid Hollanders to drive from their home country to the southern tip of Africa and back again – all in an electric SUV.

Maarten van Pel and Renske Cox, who describe themselves as ‘nature geeks’, say they have three loves: each other, adventure and travelling the world.

They’ve been together for seven years after meeting online, but they were talking about travelling together from their first date. 

They bought a bright yellow Skoda Enyaq iV80 and left The Netherlands in mid-July, covering 24,600km across 23 countries, on the western side of the massive continent before arriving in Cape Town — and made part of the return trip via the east coast.

All up, around 39,000km in some of the most remote parts of the world, but they had no problem finding fuel for their car: it was totally powered by the sun.

They removed the Skoda’s back seats to store 60 small solar panels that would power their journey. 

The vehicle itself was fitted with seven panels on the roof and bonnet which connect to a separate battery to power a fridge, induction cooking and associated electronics.

The portable solar panels, unpacked during stopovers and arranged to absorb as much sunlight as possible, sent 11kW directly to the SUV’s battery.

The vehicle was also fitted with all-terrain tyres and a 50-litre self-purifying water tank.

Their decision to drive through Africa came four years ago.

They’d earlier visited southern Africa, loved the many attractions and wildlife, but they’d arrived and left as tourists mostly do — by air.

“We noticed the impact climate change could have there,” Renske said.

“If the temperature increased by only a degree, it could mean life or death for some animals and plants as well. We became passionate about sustainability.” 

They decided the aviation industry contributed significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, but that didn’t mean their adventures were over. 

Instead, they discussed ways of making their own lives and trips more sustainable. 

“That’s how we came up with the idea to use an electric car,” she said.

Maarten van Pel and Renske Cox and their solar powered Skoda 1
Maarten van Pel and Renske Cox.


They chose Škoda’s Enyaq iV80, the Czech brand’s first fully electric all-wheel-drive SUV and had it finished in bright yellow wrap – the colours of main sponsors Geelen Counterflow — to attract attention as they made their way through Africa. 

Most African countries in the north and central regions have no dedicated electric car charging stations, so Renske and Maarten brought their their own along.

 They then set off from the Netherlands in November 2022, having quit their jobs and committed to 18 months on the road. 

They typically had two types of days – charging the batteries and travelling. 

So instead of hunting for service stations en route, they had their eyes peeled for the best places to lay out their solar panels. 

They had an innovative charging technique: direct DC instead of DC-AC-DC and without a battery  between the solar panels and the car.

The result: up to 20 per cent fewer energy loss.

The system was built by Venema E-mobility.

The couple would try to find a spot to recharge early in the morning so that they could get as much daylight as possible.

When they found a suitable site it took about 15 minutes to set up the array of portable solar panels. Laid out, they had a surface area of 60 sq m.

“Angling the panels towards the sun is quite important to have the best yields in one day, so we started looking for hills that had such an angle, but with an even surface,” she said. 

“We were generating our own power in the really unique nature spots that Africa has to offer.” 

While the sun does its work, Cox and Van Pel take the time to recharge themselves, update their followers and create content for their social media accounts. 

As the light fades, they pack the panels away in their storage units, cook some dinner and go to bed in their roof-mounted tent. 

“You get into a rhythm. We live completely in and around the car. We make breakfast by the car, lunch as well, and dinner again,” Renske said.

“Most of the time we sleep in the wild, somewhere really remote, which we like.

“It can be quite intense… you don’t really have many moments all to yourself – we were almost always within 100m of our car, and always together. 

“Your partner needs to be your best friend but also your colleague, and sometimes you don’t match. 

“Luckily, we have a relationship where we can talk very well. And it’s also intense in a good way . . . you really get to know each other on a better level than we did, because you share so much. 

“We are still very happy together… otherwise, the way back would be very long.” 

The other days are for travelling. 

“We just started driving south… you never know what you will see on the road. Sometimes we met very interesting people or visited a nice location – sometimes it’s just a really long driving day, and then you just enjoy the view,” Renske said.

“In Europe, people often refer to Africa as one really big country, but we noticed that every time we crossed a border, it was different.” 

The couple faced unpredictable weather, rough terrain, innumerable police stops as well as bugs, and many curious locals along the way.

As they made their way down the continent, the pair hugged the west coast, travelling through Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria. 

In Cameroon, they found only a single border crossing into the country which took them along a very rough mountain road. 

“We don’t have a really high ground clearance, so it was quite a challenge to get through. It took us three days of driving really slowly,” she said. 

They then carried on through the jungles of the Congo – apparently unaware of the presence of the Baluba tribesmen –  then on to Angola and Namibia.

Baluba roughly translates to ‘wild person’ and some of those chaps still practice cannibalism . . .

However, the travellers encountered only more civil Congolese and safely steered on to their next destination: Namibia.

“We really love the nature in Namibia . . . it’s so raw and untouched – it’s the second least densely populated country in the world, and as a human, that makes you feel so small,” Renske said. 

“It’s a really powerful feeling,”  

The couple arrived in Cape Town in July, last year, where they spent some time resting in the city in  shadow of spectacular Table Mountain and planning the next stage of their trip – going all the way back up, via Africa’s eastern flank. 

But along the way they were to encounter a problem that had them back in an aircraft for some hours.

From Cape Town they went to Johannesburg, on into Mozambique, through Tanzania – where they were delighted to find an EV charging point — and into Kenya.

There they learnt that the road north presented some serious problems.

“Neighbouring Sudan was in a state of war and to enter Ethiopia and Egypt was difficult and very expensive,” Renske told us.

“In addition, the Gaza region was a challenge.

“So we shipped our car from Mombasa in southern Kenya, got on a flight to Athens and continued our way home from there after the car arrived.

“We unfortunately had no other option.”

From Greece, they drove it through Macedonia, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Germany before reaching home in The Netherlands a few weeks ago. 

Quite a trip and it took a very long time – but Maarten and Renske spent no money on fuel or power or accommodation – and went home with wondrous experiences they’ll never forget.

Videos of their trip can be seen at 4×4 electric on YouTube.


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