Photonic crystals (PhCs) influence the propagation of light by their periodic variation in dielectric contrast or refractive index. This review outlines the attractive optical qualities inherent to most PhCs namely the presence of full or partial photonic band gaps and the possibilities they present towards the inhibition of spontaneous emission and the localization of light. Colloidal self-assembly of polymer or silica spheres is one of the most favoured and low cost methods for the formation of PhCs as artificial opals. The state of the art in growth methods currently used for colloidal self-assembly are discussed and the use of these structures for the formation of inverse opal architectures is then presented. Inverse opal structures with their porous and interconnected architecture span several technological arenas – optics and optoelectronics, energy storage, communications, sensor and biological applications. This review presents several of these applications and an accessible overview of the physics of photonic crystal optics that may be useful for opal and inverse opal researchers in general, with a particular emphasis on the recent use of these three-dimensional porous structures in electrochemical energy storage technology. Progress towards all-optical integrated circuits may lie with the concepts of the photonic crystal, but the unique optical and structural properties of these materials and the convergence of PhC and energy storage disciplines may facilitate further developments and non-destructive optical analysis capabilities for (electro)chemical processes that occur within a wide variety of materials in energy storage research.