Renewable energy appears to be the most optimal alternative to fossil fuel and the widely accepted pathway towards the mitigation of climate change. However, the costs of adopting renewable energy are high, and it appears the wealth of nations, the stages of economic development and growth and institutional willingness and quality are important in winning this global challenge. However, there is limited information on the interplay of all the factors that are perceived as critical in moving the world towards the use of renewable energy sources to meet most of the domestic and industrial energy needs. This study investigates the inter-temporal causal relationship between institutions, renewable energy, carbon emissions and economic growth for 45 sub-Saharan Africa countries using annual data for the period 1960–2017. We used the generalised method of moment panel vector autoregression (GMM-PVAR) technique to explore the linkages. From a general perspective, the results reveal that no causal relationship exists between institutions and economic growth, but a bidirectional causality exists between economic growth and renewable energy. Our results indicate that economic growth causes carbon emissions, and institutions are more likely to respond to carbon emissions and renewable energy but prompts no causality exists between carbon emissions and renewable energy. Interestingly, these results differ between countries with different institutional origin. The policy implications are discussed.