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Pioneers of Sustainability: A Road Trip Across Canada

Marco Sanelli
Monday, November 14, 2016

car_wagon1.jpgWhat are the first thoughts that come to mind when you hear the words “road trip across Canada”? Most likely, you’ll think of something like a narrow road stretching far into the horizon, cutting through a mountainous landscape blanketed with evergreen forests, majestic lakes and pristine rivers. An iconic Volkswagen Westfalia rumbles and growls its way across the landscape while the stereo blasts Fleetwood Mac.

For Rolf Oetter, Silke Sommerfeld and their dog Kye, their road trip across Canada resembled this scene, but with one important difference: their Tesla Model X (first electric SUV) was definitely not rumbling and growling its way across the country.

Rolf and Silke had been environmentally conscious for many years, but when the circumstances felt right, they came to the unanimous decision that it was time to make a real impact in the promotion of sustainable transportation. They did so by combining their long-term desire to travel across Canada with their determination to promote sustainable life choices, such as using electric vehicles (EV) and solar panels.

The couple embarked on a 3-month 100% electric voyage from their hometown of Saanich, British Columbia all the way to St. John’s, Newfoundland. In doing so, they  became true pioneers of EV transportation. Never before had any vehicle and trailer driven across Canada (around 8,500 km) running exclusively on electric power.

“It’s a good way to combine something that we always wanted to do with something that we want to do now,” explains Silke.

car_wagon_2.jpgRolf and Silke know that EV popularity is still at its infancy stage in most of Canada. They also know that the future will bring lower EV prices, as well as more efficient and prevalent charging infrastructure. Based on that, Rolf and Silke figured that if they bring attention to themselves driving an EV across Canada, then surely people would realize the benefits of driving EVs in the future. Among the captivating features of EVs lie the smooth, quiet, and high torque driving performance, the low cost of both electricity and maintenance of the vehicle, and the government subsidies to purchases of EVs. Perhaps most importantly, EVs can have zero tailpipe emissions when their source of electricity is derived from renewable energy such as wind and solar.

The majority of Canadian provinces have only recently invested in their first EV charging stations. So how, with about 8,500 kilometers between Saanich and St. Johns, did Rolf and Silke manage?

Two days before leaving for their trip, the couple did a test run to the Campbell River area of Vancouver Island. They realized something shocking: the weight of the trailer would limit their range of travel from 400 to 220 kilometers per charge. Nevertheless, Rolf and Silke did not get discouraged and stayed determined to reach their objective. Most of the preparation went into building a social media presence and finding the appropriate trailer. The couple travelled with an aerodynamic lightweight trailer, equipped with 800 watts of solar panels (installed by Rolf himself) which were ready to provide an extra 30 to 40 km boost should they need it. Before their trip began, little preparation was spent on determining exactly how many hours they would drive each day, or where they would find charging stations: these decisions were often made on a day-to-day basis. While travelling through British Columbia and some of Alberta, they relied on Tesla’s Superchargers; further on they opted to use campground electricity in order to charge their vehicle overnight. The couple then used the Sun Country network of Peavey Mart charging stations before returning to using Superchargers in the final third of the trip. They had some nail biting close calls when trying to reach charging stations and campgrounds (click here for more details from their Youtube channel).  

rolfsilke.jpgRolf and Silke documented the trip on their website TeslaXCanada and other social media platforms. During the meetups organized around the country, Rolf and Silke had the opportunity to display their vehicle and trailer as well as answer questions. Silke described people’s reactions as being positive and encouraging with the occasional thumbs up from other drivers along the way. While the couple is not affiliated or endorsed by Tesla Motors, they encourage Canadian citizens to invest in any EV, no matter the make or model. The couple is hopeful that their initiative will inspire others to transition to sustainable methods of energy and transportation.

Initiatives such as TeslaXCanada lead to incredible success stories; milestones that will undoubtedly contribute to the accelerated rise in popularity of EVs. This increased demand will lower prices and stimulate further innovations in terms of efficiency. Rolf and Silke hope that if you can afford a second car, you’ll make it an electric one!

If you wish to contact Rolf and Silke with any questions or for potential speaking opportunities, you may do so here.


Marco Sanelli is a 4th year student in the Natural Resource Conservation major in the Faculty of Forestry at UBC.


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