Abstract There is little agreement on what policies are most effective in promoting renewable energy (RE) technologies or even in what it means for a policy to be ‘effective.’ As a result, RE policy-setting can decay into a chaotic process of seeking only to satisfy stakeholders, while losing sight of the larger goals that motivated the original interest in renewables. This paper provides an explicit framework that clarifies the relationship between goals, programs, and technologies. Specifically, this paper argues that there is an explicit and simple linear relationship between these three concepts, and shows how a specific policy goal is best accomplished by distinct programs and technologies. This framework can assist decision-makers by clarifying that, if they choose a specific goal, then there are a specific set of corresponding programs and technologies that will best meet that goal. This framework is applied to Ireland, which is currently considering policy change to encourage greater implementation of renewables.