Advances in electrocatalysis at solid-liquid interfaces are vital for driving the technological innovations that are needed to deliver reliable, affordable and environmentally friendly energy. Here, we highlight the key achievements in the development of new materials for efficient hydrogen and oxygen production in electrolysers and, in reverse, their use in fuel cells. A key issue addressed here is the degree to which the fundamental understanding of the synergy between covalent and non-covalent interactions can form the basis for any predictive ability in tailor-making real-world catalysts. Common descriptors such as the substrate-hydroxide binding energy and the interactions in the double layer between hydroxide-oxides and H---OH are found to control individual parts of the hydrogen and oxygen electrochemistry that govern the efficiency of water-based energy conversion and storage systems. Links between aqueous- and organic-based environments are also established, encouraging the 'fuel cell' and 'battery' communities to move forward together.