A Look At 4X4 Electric Expedition’s Direct Solar EV Charging Solution

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Electric cars are moving into the mainstream and while it may feel daunting to switch over to an electric vehicle full-time for your daily use, one Dutch couple decided to see what EVs were really capable of. Importantly, they’re trying to do as much of the driving as possible powered by solar.

After tons of research, Maarten van Pel and Renske Cox built up a SKODA ENYAQ iV 80 electric vehicle for a massive expedition from their home in the Netherlands down to the southern tip of Africa and back, dubbing the trip the 4×4 Electric Expedition. Jennifer unpacked the origins of the trip in an article last year and the team has since finished the build and hit the road. They recently hosted a webinar with their solar and charging partners where they unpacked the custom solutions developed for the expedition.

To do this, they worked with a local company in the Netherlands, Mito Solar, to design and install a custom solar array on the hood, on their rooftop tent, and on their Tilbox rooftop cargo box. Mito Solar built its business around a need for custom solar arrays to power lightweight racing vehicles on land and sea and continues to push the limits on what’s possible with the latest solar technology. This fixed array is supported by a massive array of thin portable panels designed to be laid out on the ground and wired up to charge the car. So far, the system has performed flawlessly with zero faults.

As needed, Renske and Maarten take full days to lay out a custom array of solar panels on the ground to directly charge the car from DC power. The process of laying out all the panels is a bit cumbersome but really isn’t the end of the world. A time lapse they recently posted shows that it takes about 12 or 13 minutes to tear down the system and a similar amount to set it up:

Charging their EV directly from solar panels is a fascinating concept as typical solar EV chargers will take solar DC power, into a DC battery (~3% loss), convert that to AC power to run directly into the car (~5% loss), which is then converted back to DC power (~5% loss) to charge the battery of the car. Renske and Martin worked with Dutch company Venema E-Mobility to develop a custom DC to DC charging system that takes the direct DC output from the solar array and charges the car with a net loss of around just 3%.

These figures were all unpacked in the webinar linked above where they talk through the process of building out the EV charging system for the expedition. Charging directly from solar this comes with several obvious advantages. Right off the bat, you eliminate the need to run the solar DC power through a second smaller battery. That’s less weight and less storage volume needed — a top concern for a single vehicle expedition.

It also eliminates the need to convert the DC power from the smaller battery to AC and then back again inside the car. This eliminates the need for a separate inverter in the car which is one less failure point and again less weight and less volume to carry around. Minimizing weight and volume being carried is critical, especially for the 4×4 electric team. Their solar array while compact still consumes the majority of the volume of their Skoda.

Venema E-Mobility developed a custom solution on a super tight timeline specifically for Maarten and Renske. They specialize in designing and developing DC to DC charging solutions, primarily building portable high power EV charging solutions for heavy equipment. They tested the first prototype of the 4×4 Electric Expedition solution on July 6th, 2022 and rapidly iterated, testing a second prototype a few weeks later on September 22nd. The expedition was planning to leave November 4th 2022 so the timeline was extremely tight.

The solution Venema E-Mobility developed prioritized, a compact design, high efficiency and of course, safety was the paramount concern. The solution is more of an exploratory project as Venema E-Mobility does not have plans to bring it to market at this time. The 4×4 Electric Expedition and their partnership with Mito Solar and Venema E-Mobility demonstrate just how capable current clean technologies are. By comparison, for the average human living in the same home day in and day out, driving an electric vehicle is relatively easy.

Most people reading this have access to consistent electricity and that fact alone makes electric vehicles a viable option for daily use. Of course we have challenges by region challenges for multi-family dwellings challenges for dense cities and rural environments, but these are all solvable. As the 4×4 electric team demonstrated, we have the solutions. All that is needed is the willpower to first consider electric vehicles and solar as options.

Doing the work to understand what is required to make them work in your life is the real work for us. It could be installing a level 2 charger, asking for a charger to be installed at work, or finding your nearest fast charging options. If Maarten and Renske can take an electric vehicle from the Netherlands and drive it all the way down to the bottom of Africa — and they are well on their way in this journey — what is stopping you from using an electric vehicle to drive to work, to the grocery store, and to the park?

If they have the willpower to define and to develop the solutions needed to take this trip and to power the majority of their driving with solar panels they have to carry around and set up at each stop, how much easier is it for us to using electric vehicle into have the luxury of plugging it in at a local supermarket, shopping mall or fast charger?

The future is electric.
The future is now.

Huge thanks to Renske and Maarten for taking on this massive expedition. They are opening people’s eyes to the potential of electric vehicles and solar. They are, through their efforts, raising awareness about the capability of these solutions in Africa and beyond. And they are pushing the boundaries of what our current solutions get us identifying gaps and developing meaningful robust solutions to these challenges along the way.

They are out there getting stuck in the mud. They are troubleshooting solutions remotely. They are driving through dense cities. They are out in the wild each and every day. They are taking the risk and with this massive effort, they are taking a step forward for all of us into the fully electric, zero emission future.

You can learn more about the 4x4electric expedition on their website, with regular updates on their Twitter feed, and on their YouTube channel where they are documenting each step of their journey. If you would like to contribute directly to their effort, you can directly donate to the non-profit set up to help fund this expedition.

Finally, it’s also worth checking out their sponsors including their flagship sponsor Geelen Counterflow because these are the companies pushing the limits on what current clean technologies can accomplish and filling in the gaps with creative, innovative, new solutions.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored article and we have no affiliation with the 4×4 Electric Expedition, Renske, Maarten or their sponsors. We just love clean technology and the power it has to transform our planet into a sustainable, renewable that can support humanity for generations to come. 

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Kyle Field

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

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