Renewable energy (RE) technologies are looked upon favourably to provide future energy demands and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However the installation of these technologies requires large quantities of finite material resources. We apply life cycle assessment to 100 years of electricity generation from three stand-alone RE technologies – solar photovoltaics (PV), run-of-river hydro and wind – to evaluate environmental burden profiles against baseline electricity generation from fossil fuels. We then devised scenarios to incorporate circular economy improvements targeting hotspots in systems’ life cycle, specifically (i) improved recycling rates for raw materials and (ii) the application of eco-design. Hydro presented the lowest environmental burdens per kWh of electricity generation compared with other RE technologies, owing to its higher efficiency and longer lifespans for main components. Distinct results were observed in the environmental performance of each system based on the consideration of improved recycling rates and eco-design. Circular economy measures produced similar modest savings in already low GHG emissions burdens for each technology, while eco-design specifically had the potential to provide significant savings in abiotic resource depletion. Further research to explore the full potential of circular economy measures for RE technologies will curtail the resource intensity of RE technologies required to mitigate climate change.