We study absorption enhancement by light scattering at periodically textured interfaces in thin film silicon solar cells. We show that the periodicity establishes resonant coupling to propagating waveguide modes. Ideally, such modes propagate in the high index silicon film where they are eventually absorbed, but waveguide modes exist also in the transparent front contact layer if the product of its refractive index and thickness exceeds half the wavelength. Taking into account that the absorption coefficient of realistic transparent conducing films exceeds the one of silicon close to its band gap, certain waveguide modes will enhance parasitic absorption in the transparent front contact. From an analysis based on the statistic distribution of energy among the available waveguide and radiation modes, we conclude that conventional thin film silicon solar cells with thick and nonideal contacts may fail to reach the previously noted bulk limit of 4n(Si)(2); instead, a more conservative limit of 4(n(Si)(2) - n(TCO)(2)) applies. (C) 2011 American Institute of Physics. [doi: 10.1063/1.3569689]