Congo Brazzaville, Cabinda, and Congo Kinshasa (DRC) are, up until now, the countries we experienced as the most difficult to solar charge our electric car. Why? Read it in this article.
The road conditions in Congo Brazzaville, driving from Cameroon to Cabinda, are just perfect, consisting of only good tarmac roads. In Cabinda, it is all tarmac as well, with only some potholes now and then. Congo Kinshasa started unexpectedly, with a dirt road directly from the border, a road that had even changed its course compared to our navigation, so we were driving a road that did not exist digitally. This was the first 50 kilometers, after that, it was perfect tarmac again almost all the way to the Lufo border to Angola.
What is interesting to see in all three countries, is that the main road is very good most of the time, however, the second you leave the main road you drive small unmaintained dirt roads. It does not matter if you are in nature, a village or a city, this is everywhere the same.
Challenges while solar charging
The north of Congo Brazzaville consists of a very dense jungle with almost no side roads or places to park. It was even difficult to find spots to camp in the wild, let alone find a spot to lay out all our 60m2 solar panels. We did find a location three times, at spots workers used in the past to build the road.
The first time we charged the whole day and only generated 32%, the second time it looked like we could charge a bit more up until a new challenge occurred; flies! These flies did not sting, however, there were so many and somehow, they aimed to fly into our eyes, ears, and noses, which made them very annoying. We used our mosquito net, but they could just crawl through the holes. We made a construction with a mosquito net in another mosquito net, but also this was not enough. As they truly made us go crazy, we decided to stop early this day and clean everything up in the middle of the day (something we normally never do because of the risk to get a heat stroke, but this was an exception). While cleaning I think both of us had at least a million of those flies on us. A feeling we both will never forget!
The third time we charged on the sun we parked next to the road near a river. It seemed like the perfect location as it got very hot still in the sun, and this way we could cool ourselves in the river. When we started setting up our solar system, nobody was there, but this changed quickly. More and more kids came to watch us, and they stayed the entire time, even though it was a school day. As this has happened more often during our expedition, we are quite used to locals watching us. However, this time they kept coming closer, no matter how often we asked them to keep a little distance. We, therefore, felt challenged to get creative, as we did want a little space to do our own thing at some point. In the end, we offered them a football, in exchange for them letting us be. They accepted this deal and ran off very happy with their new football we filled with our air compressor.
A couple of minutes later, a man came to us with his scooter, asking if we could fill his tires as well. Of course, we did not mind helping him. It was interesting that he kept wanting more air, even when his tires were rock solid. We then advised him it was better not to. He almost seemed disappointed.
Driving more to the south, the scenery changed to a savanna with high green grass. This grass was so high, I think at least 2 meters, you could not see where you were driving. Therefore, finding a spot to charge was not easier than before. In addition, the weather consisted of even more clouds. This is why we decided to charge mostly on the grid. We did not solar charge in Cabinda and DRC.
Crossing with an electric car
As the main roads are so good, this results in a nice range with our electric car. However, if we would leave the main road, our range descends quickly due to more resistance in sand or mud.
Finding a location to charge your car on the grid is not that difficult, in all medium to large villages there is a grid. Sometimes the power is off, but we did not experience this for longer periods of time, which made the electricity network more reliable compared to the previous countries.
At every hotel where we asked if we could charge our car, they had never heard this question before. This however did not keep them from jumping into action in a minute. We charged 3 phases several times after the mechanic just started puzzling about how to connect our cables to theirs. We admire how solution-minded they are. In all cases they liked it so much to experience charging an electric car, they did not want to charge extra for the needed electricity. We truly see this as an advantage of charging on the grid at a hotel, that we give local people the experience of working with an electric car for the first time. When we charge in nature with our solar panels, the locals miss this experience.
This does however not change the fact that we hope to be able to charge more on the sun in Angola again. As both of us just love being in the wilderness with our self-sufficient expedition car.