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"Charging was no problem at all"

Carrie, her husband Hugo, and their friend Piper helped Meer Bomen Nu with zero-emission transport of trees by funding our electric van through the winter of 21/22. Meer Bomen Nu is very grateful, as is the climate if it could speak!

The van was driven by everyone on the Meer Bomen Nu team – but mostly Marga Witteman – all around the country this past winter to distribute materials and trees to groups and volunteers. Have you ever wondered about getting rid of your combustion-engine car or van and going clean? Marga answers many questions; read below.

Matching funds this year!

Please join in, and every 10 euro you donate will be matched with 10 euros from them. The goal is €5.000 !

For the winter of 22/23 Carrie, Hugo, and Piper will contribute to the zero-emission delivery of trees via a matching funds arrangement: This is a convenient way to contribute to the work of savings trees, greening our country, and moving to the new clean travel of the 21st century.

We hope you enjoy the interview (below), and we invite you to sign up for next season to harvest seedlings.

"Charging was no problem at all"

CB: Hello, Marga Witteman of the Netherlands and Urgenda Team Agriculture, Forestry, and Biodiversity. We were happy to contribute to your cause. We saw the amazing electric van that you leased and would like to ask some questions about it.  Electric vehicles are showing up everywhere, but many people have no idea what it is like to use one in place of a normal car. There are misconceptions and questions, so thanks for talking to us.

Did you really drive an electric van all over the Netherlands?! By yourself?

MW: Hello. Thank you so much again! It was an experience, and I learned a lot. I was the main user, but we shared the van among colleagues. I drove all over the provinces of Utrecht , Zuid-Holland and Zeeland. The farthest I went is gemeente Sluis on the border with Belgium all the way to Zeeuws-Vlaanderen. We covered Brabant, Limburg, Zwolle, and once we went to Belgium to a tree-planting event with Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans.  

CB: Those of us who don’t know about electric cars are afraid of running out of energy in daily use. How did you charge up?

MW: Charging was no issue at all. At home, I used city poles close to my house (I had a choice of several), and poles were always available when I needed one. They take about 5 hours to charge completley. A fast charger had my car filled up within 25 minutes. If I did not travel more than 200 to 250 km, I did not need to charge until I was home. When going somewhere, I checked the address of any meeting I was going to and located a charging pole – even a two-hour charge is worth doing. My advice is to take every opportunity that your car is not moving to charge.

CB: How did you deal with finding poles?

MW: There are many apps that map city poles, and they are fairly standard and easy to figure out. Charging providers have their own apps that tell you the location plus how fast the charging is – how long it will take. I used Fastned for fast charges along highways; they are beside gas stations usually, so I could get a cup of coffee too. Fastned looks just like google maps showing you where their chargers are.

Realistically, 100 km back and forth is totally doable, which covered most of my trips.

CB: Was there ever a moment when you were worried you would run out of power?

MW: Never. Once you have some experience with driving an e-vehicle, you are totally familiar with it. Barring an accident or something, there is no need to worry.

CB: Did other drivers realize that the van was electric?

MW: There is a big sticker on the side that says “this van is electric,” but you might not notice normally. I got some looks when stepping out of it because it’s big and I am not (!), but nobody said anything. When I started it up, there was no noise for me inside the cab, but it makes a funny futuristic sound and then people would turn to look. “What’s that??”

CB: Long trips with diesel or gasoline vehicles that vibrate from the engine are tiring, and this would be quiet. How did this compare?

MW: The absence of noise is so comfortable; it is way less tiring. I recently took a road trip in a small petrol car with a stick shift from the Netherlands to Italy. You need to rest every once in a while, which I considered normal before. The e-van makes virtually no noise, it is automatic transmission, has cruise control. I actually just hold onto the steering wheel… that’s all!

If you are using time in the car to catch up on phone calls or if you are talking to a passenger, it’s great; you can talk at a normal volume. It’s exhausting to be in noise all the time.

CB: Any bad experiences because of the electricity? Did you have all the power you needed, acceleration?

MW: I did not have any expectations so I did not know what it would be like. Before the van – last planting season -, I was towing a trailer behind an electric car and that cost the car a lot of energy. This van allowed me to carry all my material without something loose behind. That was great.

There are three different modes: eco, normal, and power.

For passing or changing lanes, you can put it in power mode. In eco, the pedal feels heavier, a bit more like you would expect in a fossil fuel car because the system is putting power back into the batteries.

On the other hand, in power mode, you put your big toe on the pedal and you are in Germany – in power mode, you can be very light on the pedal. If you take your foot off the pedal, it starts braking automatically. That might seem odd, but you get used to it quickly.

CB: Did you feel adventurous?

MW: Driving the van was scary in the beginning because it’s big. No rearview mirror, only side mirrors so I could not see behind me. You are higher up, at the front of a long body. Parking was an adventure! The beeper on the back starts beeping early, so it is not always reliable. For example, when parking in the city or a tight space, you might actually have 30 cm and could have made it into the spot, but the beeper starts warning early. You have to get out and look. With practice, you get used to it.

I learned how to park way better!

CB: Was there any downside?

When it’s freezing cold, heating eats into your battery and range quickly. Add some wind and you really need to watch it. You will need to find poles more often, and it could mean you have to charge more often than you had anticipated. So, check your route beforehand and know where the Fastned chargers are. If you don’t get to them, you have to drive slowly to find a regular slow pole, and you have to stay there for hours. That messes up your schedule and any appointments you have.

CB: Do you have to reserve Fastned spots?

MW: No, and you can’t book them in advance. The good part is no one uses the Fastned poles for more than 20 minutes usually, so the worst that happens is you have to wait 10 or 20 minutes for one.

The broken poles show up as broken on the apps, so you can skip those. You can also see which ones are in use. There are plenty of poles, but fewer fast ones.

We can add a new excuse for being late to the standard, popular Dutch ones: ‘de brug was open’, ‘mijn fiets had een lekke band’. Now you can add, “I had to wait for the fast charger.” 😉

MW: I had to wait 10 minutes a few times for a fast charger on the highway. But the fast charger locations are quite social places: drivers will see you waiting and come tell you, “I only need 10 minutes, so you can wait. I’ll be quick.” If someone has driven their battery way down and they need 40 minutes, you can decide whether to wait or drive to the next one. Fastned has from two to six poles at each location.

A nice experience was when other drivers moved their cars to allow me to maneuver to a pole that worked with a van. You are in a minority group, and everyone knows what it’s like to have an electric car.

CB: Where did you get the van — and this leads in to WHY you were driving this van all over the place.

MW: We leased it from Friesland Lease, Friends of Fossielvrij Friesland, a group of companies in Fryslân that are working to reduce their fossil fuel footprint. We know them from the 2018 Elfwegentocht, the sustainability mobility project where we organised the biggest fossil free parade on a highway, but also with boats and even an electric plane.

ElfWegenTocht With English subtitles, from Delft

CB: Why were you driving this van?

MW: Meer Bomen Nu is all about trees. Our program harvests unwanted and redundant trees and gives them away to people who want to plant, to accelerate the greening of the Netherlands. Institutions and governments would say “We have no space and we would have to maintain the trees,” so it’s slow. But a lot of our land in the Netherlands is owned and taken care of by farmers. Also, urban areas are full of tiled-over gardens, and those tiles can be taken up and replaced with trees and bushes.

People were really willing to participate. We will do it again next year. We will survey in July to see how many survived – we had a drought so it could be less than 80% as we had last season.

We aimed for 1 million trees, we got 890,000 in two winters. During the pandemic!

In the media

Read the article in the Guardian or watch this English documentary below. 

CB: Do you use the van for other stuff?

MW: No, just for Meer Bomen Nu activities of all kinds. In addition to hauling around trees and bushes, equipment, and soil, we do things like work with Caring Farmers who have city gardens; children come and work in the garden with the farmer, and they get to harvest fresh vegetables. The kids see the van and they know it’s electric. They seem to think it’s cool, especially the futuristic noise it makes when you start it up.

CB: Why did you organize an electric vehicle for Meer Bomen Nu? Was there not a more convenient van?

MW: Diesel would have been easier to get, but we want to stop climate change by planting trees, so why reduce the impact by emitting greenhouse gases? Electric means less to compensate for and it raises the net benefit.

CB: No argument there. Final question: Would you yourself buy an electric car?

MW: If I had to buy a car, I would only buy an electric car, based on comfort and the gas prices these days. I actually see no reason not to have one. Affordable leases are available now, and carsharing for e-cars is opening up, so there could be an efficient and pleasing solution for almost everyone.

CB: Thank you, Marga. Safe travels and see you next planting season.

Marga Witteman of Urgenda and Carrie Ballard (@Atelier English, The Hague)