In Memory of Adolf Goetzberger, ISES Past President and Founder of Fraunhofer ISE

In early March, the global solar community learned of the passing of a true solar pioneer – Adolf Goetzberger: Founder of the Fraunhofer ISE in 1981 and ISES President from 1991-1993.

With this text, we wish to express our greatest sympathies to his family, friends, and colleagues and to share our memories, honoring his lifetime dedication to solar energy.

Prof. Dr. Adolf Goetzberger passed away on 24 February at the age of 94. He was known around the world for his exceptional contributions to solar energy systems development and the global energy transition. With a background in experimental physics, he received his doctorate for his work on the crystallization of vapor-deposited antimony layers. He moved from Germany to the USA to work with William Shockley, Nobel Prize winner and co-inventor of the transistor, later moving to the famous Bell Laboratory in Murray Hill, New Jersey.


In 1981 as the then Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics IAF, Goetzberger formed an independent institute devoted to solar energy systems – the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (Fraunhofer ISE) which has grown from just 20 employees in 1981 to one of the largest solar energy research institutes world-wide.

Adolf Goetzberger was a true solar pioneer and the holder of more than 30 patents. For example, he developed the idea of agrivoltacis together with Armin Zastrow in 1981.

He was a forerunner in understanding the role that a diverse range of solar technologies and applications, both thermal and electric, will play in transitioning to a sustainable energy system. This belief was reflected in his work and in his setting up of the Fraunhofer ISE.

Furthermore, Adolf Goetzberger contributed significantly to ISES and played a major role in what ISES is today. He served for many years on the ISES Board of Directors, including:

Vice President: 1990- 1991
President: 1991 - 1993
Immediate Past President: 1994 - 1995
Treasurer: 1996- 1999
ISES Board of Directors as Honorary Director: 2000 - 2009


In 1992, Adolf Goetzberger participated in the UN Conference on the Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Known as the “Earth Summit” it was regarded as a milestone event in humanity’s search for a sustainable future. It was at this time that ISES became a UN accredited NGO. In the ISES history book he recalled that this was the most important event during his ISES presidency.

In 1995, Adolf Goetzberger played an important role in moving the ISES Headquarters from Melbourne to Freiburg (Germany). Through his support, ISES, supported by a generous donation from Ms Martha Weeks, was able to purchase Villa Tannheim, now home to ISES and HQ staff for the past 28 years.


Adolf Goetzberger was recognized around the world for his many outstanding contributions to solar energy utilization and research, including the ISES awards.

In 1993 Adolf Goetzberger and Fraunhofer ISE were awarded the ISES Achievement through Action Award. In 1995, he was the recipient of the ISES Farrington Daniels Award and in 1996 was presented with the Karl Böer Energy Medal of Merit Award.

Not only was he instrumental in ISES but also in the German Society for Solar Energy (DGS) the ISES German Section. He was President of the DGS from 1993 to 1997. Together with Dr. Sigrid Jannsen he wrote the chapter on the history of the DGS for “The Fifty-Year History of the International Solar Energy Society and its National Sections” published in 2005 on occasion of the ISES 50th anniversary.

Adolf Goetzberger was also Program Chair of the first ISES EuroSun conference that took place in 1996 in Freiburg, Germany.


Looking back on his career in 2018, Goetzberger shared his motivation for working in the field of solar energy: "I am often asked how I came across solar energy in particular, which at the time was not taken seriously at all as an energy source. Above all, I was fascinated by the Club of Rome’s study on the Limits to Growth. It seemed obvious to me that, since fossil fuel resources are finite, an inexhaustible source of energy, like the sun, could not be disregarded."

As we look back on his life and his many great achievements, ISES Board Members past and present shared their memories of working with Adolf Goetzberger. He is remembered for his dedication, his insightful and guiding presence as ISES president but also for many times of shared laughter. His numerous contributions are remembered fondly as they stand as a testament to a life to be admired by all that work for and dream of a greener, more sustainable energy future. 

ISES President Prof. Dr. Klaus Vajen notes that "Adolf Goetzberger was a stroke of luck for both the development of solar energy as well as for ISES. We will forever be grateful to have known him and for his many contributions."