Abstract High-density vertically aligned ZnO nanotube arrays were fabricated on FTO substrates by a simple and facile chemical etching process from electrodeposited ZnO nanorods. The nanotube formation was rationalized in terms of selective dissolution of the (001) polar face. The morphology of the nanotubes can be readily controlled by electrodeposition parameters for the nanorod precursor. By employing the 5.1 μm-length nanotubes as the photoanode for a dye-sensitized solar cell (DSSC), a full-sun conversion efficiency of 1.18% was achieved. Furthermore, we show that the DSSC unit can serve as a robust power source to drive a humidity sensor, with a potential for self-powered devices. © 2010 IOP Publishing Ltd.