I’m writing this blog on a wireless connection. The entire Bali Conference Centre is “unwired”, including meeting rooms and cafes, and it’s extremely handy. As I’m writing this, I’m remembering one of my first trips to Bali 10 years ago, and how far communications technology has come in that decade. And I’m reflecting on how that technological transformation can provide a useful parallel for how developing countries like Indonesia can avoid dirty, outdated energy technologies like coal and nuclear, and instead choose technologies that provide modern energy services to their populations without fueling climate change, and a range of other environmental problems.

First, let’s go back 10 years when I – a touch leaner and more hirsute than I am now – arrived in Bali with a friend. Our plan was to travel east to the farther reaches of the archipelego. In those days, keeping in touch with my then girlfriend – now wife – was a pretty laborious job. I had to find the local “Telkomsel” office, which was invariably sweltering, then get in the queue so I could give the number I wanted to ring to a staff member, who would then direct me to a little booth and place the call for me. Occasionally, it worked. But, of course, if my girlfriend was not there, or already on the phone, then I was out of luck. I had to wait a couple of minutes and try again. The quality of the line? Don’t ask.

Fast forward 10 years and in communications terms, this is a different country. Be it sitting in my hotel cafe doing wireless downloading, or keeping in touch with my wife through SMS, Skype or email, it’s a long way from that sweaty old Telkomsel Office.

The speed with which that transformation happened is phenomenal. Countries like Indonesia basically jumped a generation of technology. There was some broadband installed, and phone lines no doubt, but now it’s all about mobile phones and wireless connectivity. Same thing with recording technologies. VHS? Betamax? Oh yeah, I think I bought their second album……. it’s all about DVDs here, always has been.

So why can’t this happen with energy technologies? If Indonesia can bypass 10 year old communications technology, then why can’t they bypass 100 year old energy technologies like coal-fired power stations? And if Indonesia can embrace smart, modern, decentralised communications technologies like mobile phones and wireless, then surely they can also embrace smart, modern, decentralised energy technologies like solar? Cause really, ignoring renewables and seeing the choice as between nuclear and coal is the equivalent of ignoring DVDs and choosing between VHS and Betamax. Anda gila?*

But here’s the rub. Achieving this transformation is going to cost money, and a lot of that should come from developed countries like Australia. We all know that having developing countries replicate our energy systems is not an option cause it will cook the climate – our climate. So we’ve got to help stop that happening. We got to help with the financing, we’ve got to make the technologies available, and we’ve got to help with building the capacity – intellectual and institutional and otherwise – to help create sustainable energy sectors in countries like Indonesia.

Technology transfer is one of the key issues being discussed here in Bali. That’s the good news. The bad news is that developed countries aren’t being particularly helpful, blocking progress and being pretty stingy. That has got to change. If it doesn’t, we are condemning developing countries to a future of betamax and slow broadband; and the planet as a whole to a climate catastrophe.

* Indonesian for “are you crazy”?