Novel ruthenium (II) phenanthroline complex, Ru-II(4,4 ',4"-tri-tert-butyl-2,2 ':6 ',2"-terpyridine)-(4,7-dipheny1-1,10-phenanthroline-disulfonic acid disodium salt)(thiocyanate), [Ru(L1)(L2)(NCS)], [K328] was designed and synthesized as a photosensitizer for the dye sensitized solar cells (DSSCs) using TiO2 and ZnO electrodes. The density functional theory (DFT) calculation was used to estimate the photovoltaic properties of the complex in the design stage. In this paper, our aim was to investigate the interaction between semiconductor and anchoring groups like sulfonate group that binds onto TiO2 and ZnO surface. The influence of the semiconductor type on the performance of TiO2 and ZnO based photovoltaics has been tested. The solar cell performance of TiO2 based solar cell shows better efficiencies compared to ZnO based solar cell. Although sulfonate group did offer stronger binding onto the semiconductor surface, this does not help to improve cell performance for ZnO based solar cells. (C) 2014 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.