Energy research is to a large extent materials research, encompassing the physics and chemistry of materials, including their synthesis, processing toward components and design toward architectures, allowing for their functionality as energy devices, extending toward their operation parameters and environment, including also their degradation, limited life, ultimate failure and potential recycling. In all these stages, X-ray and electron spectroscopy are helpful methods for analysis, characterization and diagnostics for the engineer and for the researcher working in basic science.This paper gives a short overview of experiments with X-ray and electron spectroscopy for solar energy and water splitting materials and addresses also the issue of solar fuel, a relatively new topic in energy research. The featured systems are iron oxide and tungsten oxide as photoanodes, and hydrogenases as molecular systems. We present surface and subsurface studies with ambient pressure XPS and hard X-ray XPS, resonant photoemission, light induced effects in resonant photoemission experiments and a photo-electrochemical in situ/operando NEXAFS experiment in a liquid cell, and nuclear resonant vibrational spectroscopy (NRVS). (C) 2012 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.