The ZSW was established in 1988 by the German state of Baden-Württemberg, together with universities, research institutions, and commercial firms. It is a non-profit foundation under the civil code.

Solar energy and hydrogen technologies are currently maturing on an industrial scale and will be major components in the sustainable energy supply of the 21st century. As a result, ZSW pursues the following goals and research topics.
The ZSW’s research goals are:

* Research and development of technologies for the sustainable and climate-friendly generation of electricity, heat, and fuel
* Transfer of R&D results to market-relevant products
* Industrial technology transfer
* Consulting political decision-makers and professional associations
* Public relations work about solar energy utilisation and hydrogen technology

Today the ZSW has approximately 120 employees and is one of the leading research institutes in its field. Joint ventures and the growing proportion of industry commissions demonstrate the consistent applications relevance of our work.
Current topics are:

* Photovoltaic materials research and development, especially for PV thin-film technologies
* Systems development for PV applications
* Hydrogen technology
* Electrochemical energy conversion and storage
* Fuel cell development and manufacturing
* Renewable fuels and process engineering
* Modelling and simulation
* Energy economy systems analysis

The ZSW is integrated in numerous research and development networks both in Germany and abroad.