Most of us have spent the last week feeling like we're being slow-roasted in our own juices.

As Victoria's summer meltdown continued, we retreated to our homes, offices and shopping centres - anywhere that offered a reliable source of cool air.

But all those airconditioning units have a hidden cost that is taking a toll on our most vulnerable. At the same time, solar power is starting to help turn down the heat. Let me explain.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, about a quarter of households don't have airconditioning.

Many of these simply can't afford it. Others live in older public housing or rent lower quality homes and may not have the right to install it even if they could scrape together the money. The Energy Supply Association of Australia estimates that it costs these households about $330 a year to subsidise the better off, while sweltering for the privilege.

The rapid rise of airconditioning is one of the biggest reasons for the recent spikes in our power bills. Every time your neighbour puts in a new airconditioner, the network of power poles and wires carrying electricity from power plants to our businesses and homes has to be upgraded, so that it can cope when everyone turns on their aircon at the same time during our hottest summer days.

Those extra costs are divided up between all electricity users. Typically those who can afford it least pay more as a proportion of their income. In the last few years these extra network costs have given most of us a different kind of electric shock when we open our power bill.

But there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Last week the Federal Government released figures showing that more than two million solar energy systems had been installed in homes across the country. More than 1.1 million are the type of systems that use the sun to create electricity, while the rest use it to produce hot water.

It is a good news story of people taking direct action to tackle skyrocketing power bills. And it has provided flow-on economic benefits, with hundreds of new solar businesses employing thousands of people.

Producing power on your rooftop helps reduce the pressure on the network and avoid more costly expansions.

That means solar can help reduce the hidden costs of airconditioning. It acts like an extra power plant spread across more than 200,000 Victorian rooftops, especially on hot summer days.

But while solar helps everyone, the households that have installed it benefit the most. That's why a variety of new products and business models are being created that can help to give more people access to the benefits of solar.

We are working with the Federal Government on its One Million Solar Roofs program, to ensure it is aimed at low-income households. In the UK when a similar scheme was rolled out, the then-Conservative opposition (now the government) changed the proposed legislation to ensure that lower-income households got specific support. An idea that also shows promise is solar leasing, which means that solar technology can be installed for free and paid off over a number of years. This idea could work for public housing or community housing such as retirement villages, or those owned by churches. Some solar companies have been actively trying to negotiate models that can help those in public housing in particular.

We've also been working with LJ Hooker to provide property managers and others with information on getting solar power systems on to rental properties.

There is plenty more work to do, but solar is starting to play a key role, directly and indirectly, in helping small businesses and families beat rising electricity prices. And that's good news for us all.

David Green
Chief Executive, Clean Energy Council

This piece originally appeared in the Herald Sun.