Solar Power Blossoming In Japan's Northeast Thanks to PayPal Founder's Donation

Soma City, located approximately 30 km south of Sendai, Japan, and just 43 km (27 miles) north of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, suffered a triple-whammy of near-biblical proportions in 2011. First came the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11th, followed by a massive tsunami with waves almost 8 meters (26 ft) high.

A less obvious but more sinister disaster unfolded for Soma City over the next days, weeks and months as one by one, the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant lost their critical cooling capacity and began to spew radiation into the environment. The Japanese government announced a series of advisory zones surrounding the nuclear plant in the days following the earthquake, with Soma City lying just outside the 30km “stay indoor and no-fly” zone.

While its industries and infrastructure suffered severe damage from the March 11th earthquake and tsunami, Soma City's favorable topography and the area's prevailing winds have negated any need for citizens to evacuate.

Even so, the indirect influence of the disasters has put a serious crimp into Soma City's efforts towards recovery and rebuilding. What nobody expected was for an American charitable foundation to step in and offer Soma City a powerful helping hand... solar powerful, to be exact.

The Musk Foundation, headed by PayPal founder and former space tourist Elon Musk, has donated $250,000 (about $20 million yen) to support the reconstruction of Soma City. The funds will be used to build a 100 panel solar power station that can be expanded in the future using 11 hectares of city-owned land.

Musk is the owner of SolarCity, who will be managing the project free of charge. As well, the high-efficiency solar panels mounted in the plant's collection arrays will be manufactured in Japan and will be installed by workers from the Fukushima area, thus boosting local employment. It's hoped that the Soma City solar plant will inspire similar recovery schemes in other hard-hit areas of Japan, with the bonus of providing environmentally-friendly renewable power sources for future generations..

Construction on the solar power plant has already begun, with the first shovels hitting the soil in conjunction with the donation announcement on July 29th.

The on-site ceremony was personally attended by Musk, who posed for photos with Soma City Mayor Hidekiyo Tachiya. One of Musk's reasons for visiting Soma City in person is that he's hoping to show others that the area is safe, sound, and open for business. 

“We are grateful to Elon Musk and the Musk Foundation for this generous gift, and for coming such a long way to personally visit Soma City,” said Mayor Tachiya. “Recovery requires us to build new industries, and our next generation wants them to be supported by new kinds of energy. With this project as a beginning, Soma City hopes to become a model for Japan's energy future.” (via BusinessWire, Kyodo News, and Solar Novus Today)