You may, or may not, have heard that for the past 662 days, a Dutch man has been driving across the world in an electric car. He started in the Netherlands, has driven up, down, and around Europe (passing through 20 European countries), journeyed through the Middle East and Asia, and has just made it to Indonesia, so is now not far from his destination of Sydney, Australia.
Wiebe Wakker’s worldwide EV road trip has so far taken him across 31 countries and covered over 52,000 kilometres, and all in a retrofitted Volkswagen with an average of 200 km of range (235 km being his record so far).
The name of his project is “Plug Me In,” since he calls on the kindness of strangers to provide him with electricity for the car, as well as food and shelter to power him through his travels. It is Wiebe’s graduation project, which he worked on for 1.5 years before hitting the road — with the help of a few sponsors that work in sustainability to help source the equipment, including the car which he has borrowed from Bundles, which provides an alternative and more sustainable approach to clothes washing.
On his website, you can view the route he has taken and watch his regular video updates (highly recommended — they’re shot well, have great personal commentary, and include plenty of cliffhanger moments along the way). To go a bit further, if you live in Indonesia, Timor Leste, or Australia (or know someone who does), you can put forward your home, hospitality, and electricity to power him up and help him complete his journey.
This important social element to the trip is what makes it truly unique. Not only does he have countless travel stories of beautiful and challenging encounters, but he is of course teaching people online and offline about electric cars and their capabilities (fit to travel across the world, if you have the time!). There are now people all across Iran, Oman, and Myanmar who know how long it takes to charge a car with a battery of this size from the mains electricity of their homes, because there are (or were, in the case of Oman) no public charging stations in those countries. In countries such as those, he is a travelling showcase, a glimpse into the future of mobility, and has become somewhat of a celebrity with press and media rushing to meet him. In many other countries, mainly European based, he is just another electric car on the road, but with a pretty epic story to share! I met Wiebe in Dubai a year ago and have been following his adventure online ever since. I thought it was time the CleanTechnica readers knew of his achievements, and I was lucky enough to have him share his story with me in more detail.
Charging in 31 Different Countries
Wiebe found his home country of The Netherlands to have the best charging infrastructure so far, with around 16,000 fully electric EVs on the road (100,000 if you include hybrid) and 16,000 charging stations to match. If he ever got to 2% battery, he always felt confident that he could find a charging station nearby. Norway was then a close second with plenty of free charging from the government. [Editor’s note: The Netherlands and Norway have the most EV charging per capita by far, but Norway has a lot more electric vehicles, which would likely mean the Netherlands is indeed the best place out there for EV charging.]
When discussing Ukraine, he said: “I was surprised by Ukraine, I could already cover most of the country. This network has been installed by a group of individuals who want to be independent from Russia, so if they drive electric they don’t need to buy gas from them. It’s interesting to see that often the infrastructure is being pushed by the enthusiasm of citizens rather than governments. Although, backing from governments can give it a huge and needed boost.”
He went on to say: “In the 31 countries I crossed, I can only recall Iran, Oman and Myanmar as having zero charging infrastructure. In all other countries, I found something between a pilot project or decent infrastructure. I always see a charging station as a luxury thing, as I charge mainly on the 220V outlets at people’s homes and it takes 12 hours to charge the car. Only in India I encountered problems with that. Power cuts happened often and in some villages 6 ampere was the norm at residential areas. With my car it would take 50 hours to fully charge the car, a Tesla would have taken a week. I have spent hours trying to find places where 16A was available, I would find them at factories. ABB just announced they are building 4,500 chargers in India which I will follow with great interest as it will be very challenging to get high voltages. I do believe this transition can be highly beneficial for the country as a whole.”
Technical and Social Challenges So Far
“India was the most challenging part so far. I encountered lots of mechanical problems on the car. It started with a broken spring, and ended with the car getting detained by Bangladeshi customs and having to return to India. I also got a flat tyre and rubber bushings on the lower arms wore out. At the workshop where we checked the car we tried to charge it and due to a short circuit on the outlet the 3-phase charger blew up. The car had to be transported by truck to the nearest city, but the driver didn’t have the tools to offload the car and so it took 3 days to eventually find the solution at a train station, where they had some wood that we used to drive the car onto the platform.
“This was really hard and I had some sleepless nights but I couldn’t let it bother me enough to give up. When you start a journey like this you accept situations like this will happen and it makes it more memorable. This moment also became for me one of the highlights as it showed how nice people can be. Both offline and online people were reaching out to help. Some journalists came by and interviewed me, and many locals offered me accommodation and helped in trying to find a solution for offloading the car from the truck. We tried so many things, and at one point the car was moved from the truck to a warehouse where it also got stuck. Online even people sent in technical drawings with calculations of how to get the car back to ground level. I really have the most amazing support from my online community.
“What can be socially challenging sometimes is that every day I start again. I arrive at new hosts who all want to know the same questions as my previous 300 hosts. In some Asian countries, my hosts invite their cousins, nephews of those cousins, and their grandparents. Then I need to tell my story 20 times a day, which can drive me a bit nuts, but it’s part of the endeavour. Every time I tell it, I get positive energy back, which keeps me going.”
Worldwide Lessons in Sustainability
“The UAE and especially Dubai surprised me a lot. I always had the idea that Dubai was this huge oil producing and consuming Emirate, but I found out there is almost no oil anymore and less than 5% of the GDP comes from oil. They are doing a lot to switch to renewable energy. When I was there, already 100 charging stations were activated, with the 2nd phase recently announced and plenty of great electric vehicle initiatives taking place. I stayed in The Sustainable City (a net zero energy community) and I joined the Global EVRT team for a few weeks to help them deliver their Emirates Electric Vehicle Road Trip to promote EV adoption. Also, the UAE has managed to break a few records, like lowest price for solar (first Dubai, later Abu Dhabi) and very recently the lowest price for solar during the night. Because of the newest part of Sheikh Mohammed’s solar park: concentrated solar power.
“My goal is to show that there is more going on in the field of sustainability beyond just biological food or renewable energy, and I found some great examples on the way. In Zurich, I met the guys from Kompotoi. They make toilet cabins from wood, which they place at festivals or construction areas. The human faeces are collected, separated, and made into fertiliser. The next year, the energy created from the fertiliser powers the festival — how cool is that?
“What I found interesting is the social side of sustainability, and in Vienna, a lot is happening in that field. There is Shades Tours, who organises guided tours through the city hosted by homeless people. They get the opportunity to get back to the working world and develop themselves. The tour itself is interesting, as they show you the city through their perspective. Also in Vienna, there is the Magdas Hotel, a hotel run by refugees. They are educated, given a home, and once their skills reach a certain level, they can start working somewhere else in the hotel industry. The hotel looks really cool too — all the furniture is gathered through a crowdsourcing campaign and made to look neat by an upcycle artist.
“In Poland I found a solution which I believe is ground-breaking. The Bioelektra Group created a solution to treat waste, which is to no longer to segregate waste at the source, but at the factory of Bioelektra by a high-tech machine. The separated waste is then put into conclaves and sterilised by steam. In this process already biomass is created and transforms all the other waste (aluminium, white glass, dark glass, cans, cotton etc) into products which can be sold again. This can be highly beneficial for countries where it’s not the culture to separate waste or space is limited.”
Highlights of the Adventure So Far
“One of my favourite countries of the trip so far was definitely Iran. Little did I know about the country and was amazed by the way I was received by the Iranians. The people are really kind, friendly, and hospitable. The nature is beautiful and the architecture truly unique.
“Another favourite moment was my encounter with the Green Sheikh in Ajman, UAE. I contacted his team because I wanted to interview him and hear about his well known contributions to the environment. I quickly received an answer that the Sheikh wanted to invite me to his residence. We planned one hour for the interview, but I ended up spending the evening at his place, and he even brought me to the mosque for prayer. I found him to be very charismatic and have a magical presence about him. His vision on sustainability and life in general is very inspiring to listen to. A few weeks later he invited me to his residence again since he had students visiting from the US and he wanted me to give them a presentation. For two days I stayed at his residence and we went off-roading in the desert — pretty cool!
“An overall highlight is the amount of offers and help I have received worldwide, and in every country I have visited. I thought I would have some hard moments, but I found that everywhere people are good and willing to help people out.
“Highlight with the car is that I became the first person to cross Turkey, Iran, the UAE, India, and Myanmar by electric car. I hope that I have proven that there is no need for range anxiety, only range excitement, and that there is no longer the need to stay addicted to fossil fuels.”