The development of energy conversion and storage devices is at the forefront of research geared towards a sustainable future. However, there are numerous issues that prevent the widespread use of these technologies including cost, performance and durability. These limitations can be directly related to the materials used. In particular, the design and fabrication of nanostructured hybrid materials is expected to provide breakthroughs for the advancement of these technologies. This tutorial review will highlight block copolymers as an emerging and powerful yet affordable tool to structure-direct such nanomaterials with precise control over structural dimensions, composition and spatial arrangement of materials in composites. After providing an introduction to materials design and current limitations, the review will highlight some of the most recent examples of block copolymer structure-directed nanomaterials for photovoltaics, batteries and fuel cells. In each case insights are provided into the various underlying fundamental chemical, thermodynamic and kinetic formation principles enabling general and relatively inexpensive wet-polymer chemistry methodologies for the efficient creation of multiscale functional materials. Examples include nanostructured ceramics, ceramic-carbon composites, ceramic-carbon-metal composites and metals with morphologies ranging from hexagonally arranged cylinders to three-dimensional bi-continuous cubic networks. The review ends with an outlook towards the synthesis of multicomponent and hierarchical multifunctional hybrid materials with different nano-architectures from self-assembly of higher order blocked macromolecules which may ultimately pave the way for the further development of energy conversion and storage devices. © 2011 The Royal Society of Chemistry.