World energy demand is projected to rise to 1000 EJ (EJ = 1018 J) or more by 2050 if economic growth continues its course of recent decades. Both reserve depletion and greenhouse gas emissions will necessitate a major shift from fossil fuels as the dominant energy source. Since nuclear power is now unlikely to increase its present modest share, renewable energy (RE) will have to provide for most energy in the future. This paper addresses the questions of what energy levels RE can eventually provide, and in what time frame. We find that when the energy costs of energy are considered, it is unlikely that RE can provide anywhere near a 1000 EJ by 2050. We further show that the overall technical potential for RE will fall if climate change continues. We conclude that the global shift to RE will have to be accompanied by large reductions in overall energy use for environmental sustainability.