Cost-effective approaches to mitigating climate change depend on advances in clean energy technologies, such as solar and wind power. Given increased technology innovation in developing countries, led by China, we focus our attention on global patterns of renewable energy innovation. Utilizing highly valuable international patents as our indicator of innovation, we examine the economic and political determinants of energy innovation in 74 countries across the world, 1990–2009. We find that high oil prices and domestic renewable electricity generation capacity both increase innovation. There is no effect for corruption, but our findings suggest that democratic institutions may contribute to innovation. The main implication of our work for policymakers is that increasing renewable electricity capacity in developing countries could significantly contribute to global innovation in renewable energy.