The maximum yield of crop plants depends on the efficiency of conversion of sunlight into biomass. This review summarises recent models that estimate energy conversion efficiency for successive steps in photosynthesis and metabolism. Photorespiration was identified as a major reason for energy loss during photosynthesis and strategies to modify or suppress photorespiration are presented. Energy loss during the conversion of photosynthate to biomass is also large but cannot be modelled as precisely due to incomplete knowledge about pathways and turnover and maintenance costs. Recent research on pathways involved in metabolite transport and interconversion in different organs, and recent insights into energy requirements linked to the production, maintenance and turnover of the apparatus for cellular growth and repair processes are discussed.