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We study the influence of different textures and dielectric environments on the excitation of surface plasmon resonances on silver because textured metallic films often serve as back contacts of silicon thin film solar cells. For coupling between light and the surface plasmon excitation we use a periodic sinusoidal structure that enables us to sample the dispersion relation at well defined conditions with a simple spectral reflection measurement. We use three layer samples of amorphous silicon/ZnO/silver to mimic the behavior of the back contact in a thin film silicon solar cell; the measurements suggest that losses due to plasmon excitation can very well extend in the spectral region where optimum reflectance is desired. An appropriate thickness of ZnO is able to reduce absorption losses. Our findings on periodic structures are also found useful to explain the behavior of surface plasmon excitation on randomly textured ZnO/Ag reflector layers. © 2008 American Institute of Physics.