To travel with an electric car, charging stations are needed. Depending on the place and time, this could be a fast charger, a street charger, or a slow mobile charger via a wall outlet. But what if all these options are not available? Then there is another option: charging your car directly with solar panels. In the past 2,5 months, we drove from Dakhla to the coast of Ghana purely on solar energy. We drove through 8 countries purely on solar; Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinee, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Ivory Coast. We traveled 5.550km and charged 32 times with an average yield of +30%SoC per charging session. All these charging sessions together took 235 hours and 25 minutes. In total, we generated roughly 911kWh with our solar panels. Check our data dashboard made by Itility to learn more. In this article, we take you along on this electrifying expedition.
Getting used to this new charging technique
In Morocco, we charged with solar panels and via wall outlets at campings. As our confidence and trust in charging with our solar panels grew, close to Dakhla we decided to charge with solar panels for as long as possible. Mauritania was the first country we drove purely on the energy of the sun. Besides the fact that electricity is not widely available in this country and towns are far away from each other, we selected bigger towns with high-voltage masts as a backup plan. This way we always had enough electricity to drive back to a town. Covering 700km in Mauritania with just 2 times of solar charging, the first country purely on solar energy was a fact!
Experiencing the difference of each country
Just after the border in Senegal, we found a nice wild camping spot. The next morning the weather wasn’t that nice and we found, via an app, that there was an 11kW charger in Saint Louis. As we had enough energy in our battery, we decided to go for this charger. Arriving in Saint Louis, we came to the conclusion that we did not make the best decision, as we did not have any backup and we entered the city center with just 10%SoC. Arriving at the charger wasn’t that fun, the hotel was bankrupt. We got offered to charge our car at a local shop, but looking at the wires, we didn’t dare to charge there. Besides the fact that it would take ages to charge our car at this shop. As it was still quite early in the morning, we decided to find a solar charging spot outside the city as the weather was much better than expected. In the city center, with just 7%SoC, we were stopped by the police. With just 5%SoC we found a spot to charge with our solar panels. Even though we had some high-altitude clouds, we managed to charge the car to 25% SoC.
We charged 4 more times in Senegal before we entered the Gambia. In the Gambia, we had thick clouds for a couple of days, so we had to wait for the sun. We decided to put up camp at a nice place and stayed there for a couple of days. After 5 days, of which we drove 3 and camped 2, we were able to solar charge again!
Charge, eat, sleep and repeat
Our solar charging confidence and experience grow every time we charged our car with our solar panels. We became better at reading the landscape and finding spots to charge with an angle towards the mid-day sun for maximum yield. Especially in Senegal, after having crossed the Gambia, the country became more hilly. Although we were always able to find a clear spot for our solar panels, our yield was limited because of (high altitude) clouds or smoke from burning fields.
Most of the local people really understood what we were doing and why. While charging, some people stayed for hours, just to watch us. Something you get used to in Africa.
New challenges the more we drove south
Solar charging in Guinea Bissau and Guinea went easy as well. Due to a lot of road construction, we easily found spots (excavations) to charge even though the jungle became quite thick. And even if there wasn’t a good spot next to the road, there are football fields everywhere which are normally flat.
Sierra Leone and Liberia became a little bit more frustrating, as we had a lot of clouds for multiple days. We charged 9 times in these countries with an average of +36%SoC per charging session while this was +45%SoC in the countries before. It resulted in a lower driving speed of 35/40 km/h to still be able to travel quite some distance.
The most beautiful charging spot up until now
The most unique place so far where we solar charged our expedition car was in Liberia at Mount Nimba, an old mine. Although we had lots of clouds, due to the reflection of the clouds in combination with the sun, we had a peak charging power of 9,8kW, not bad with 10,8kWp of solar panels! Not bad at all, as the panels are moved out and in the car 36 times already in Africa and still working like a charm! We are very happy with the quality of the 60 solar panels and the drawer system which is specially designed for our expedition.
With an average +40%SoC in Ivory Coast with 4 times solar charging, the weather improved and we even matched a record: +56% SoC in one day. Although the last time we charged in Liberia we only did +20% SoC. Due to a bad forecast and with just 70km to the border of Ghana and 37% SoC (roughly 160km) we decided to enter Ghana and go for a wall outlet again. Although the border took quite some time, 3 hours, around 2 pm we entered Ghana. We found a nice resort at the coast, but this was still 90km away. With only 22% SoC this would be a close call, but we decided to go for it. We drove 90km with a cruise speed of 22km/h. With just 6% SoC left, we drove the past kilometers on a gravel road. With a last steep climb, which was quite intense with just 4%SoC as quite some power was needed. Not something you want to ask from a battery with a low percentage. But we made it with just 3% SoC left!
Charging with a wall outlet isn’t all that easy, as the quality of wall outlets here in Western Africa is not that good. Charging with 2kW for 12 hours straight, resulted in some smoke coming out of the wall outlet. We used another wall outlet and lowered the power to 1,6kW. After 35 hours, the car was charged to 90% SoC, enough energy for more than 450km of tarmac.
After we have crossed the raining season, we will try to surpass this record of 5.550km purely on solar. Are you curious if we will make it? Follow us!