Renewable energy sources are expected to provide viable alternative solutions for water desalination to address the issues of high-energy consumption and negative environmental impacts. However, the compatibility of each desalination process with solar technology strongly depends on the kind of energy required as thermal (collectors) or electrical (photovoltaic panel) and its availability. Due to the Bulkiness of solar-based systems and intermittency and non-uniformity of solar energy, several issues arise when it comes to its utilization to drive the desalination processes while targeting positive competitiveness with fossil fuels powered systems. The water production costs of large-scale renewable energy-assisted desalination systems are still higher than those of traditional fossil fuels. This study comprehensively summarizes the efforts made in renewable energy utilization in the desalination industry, with an emphasis on technological advances and economics. This study also includes recent developments and improvements in desalination processes, renewable energy technologies, and energy storage systems. In addition, this review highlights the geographical distribution, potential application, and main barriers and challenges of renewable energy-based desalination. Finally, the current and expected costs of water production using conventional and renewable energy systems were presented. Thermal desalination processes consume more energy than membrane-based systems because the former consumes a large amount of energy for water vaporization. Regarding the production cost of renewable-energy-powered desalination systems, the wave-powered reverse osmosis (RO) system had the lowest production cost, followed by solar multiple effect distillation (MED), solar multi-stage flash (MSF), wind RO, and wind mechanical vapor compression (MVC), whereas the PV-powered RO system had the highest production cost.