ZnO nanowires (NWs) have been successfully synthesized using a hydrothermal technique on both glass and silicon substrates initially coated with a sputtered ZnO thin film layer. Varying ZnO seed layer thicknesses were deposited to determine the effect of seed layer thickness on the quality of ZnO NW growth. The effect of growth time on the formation of ZnO NWs was also studied. Experimental results show that these two parameters have an important effect on formation, homogeneity and vertical orientation of ZnO NWs. Silicon nanowires were synthesized by a Ag-assisted electroless etching technique on an n-type Si (100) wafer. SEM observations have revealed the formation of vertically-aligned Si NWs with etching depth of similar to 700 nm distributed over the surface of the Si. An electron-beam evaporated chalcopyrite thin film consisting of p-type AgGa0.5In0.5Se2 with similar to 800 nm thickness was deposited on the n-type ZnO and Si NWs for the construction of nanowire based heterojunction solar cells. For the Si NW based solar cell, from a partially illuminated area of the solar cell, the open-circuit voltage, short-circuit current density, fill factor and power conversion efficiency were 0.34 V, 25.38 mA cm(-2), 63% and 5.50%, respectively. On the other hand, these respective parameters were 0.26 V, 3.18 mA cm(-2), 35% and 0.37% for the ZnO NW solar cell. (C) 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.