Öhler enjoyed a long, successful career in industrial engineering and design before moving with his wife Lisel in 1974 to Botswana, where they served as development aides. Öhler, believing that technical accomplishments would have no meaning if the earth was destroyed, sought to work for a better world environment.
In Botswana, a Canadian teacher named Richard Carothers introduced solar energy applications to the Öhlers. They tried promoting solar cooking in Botswana, but were met with skepticism from Botswanans who asked whether solar cookers were used in Switzerland.
In 1980, the Öhlers returned to Switzerland where they built their first solar cooker. By 1984, Öhler had developed a design for a sturdy, effective box cooker that was adaptable to a variety of materials and common hand-crafting skills. He also founded a group that would eventually take its name from the initials of Ulrich and Lisel Öhler. ULOG developed a variety of box cooker designs and a solar food dryer, and also promoted German SK-14 parabolic-type cookers and Scheffler Community Kitchens.
ULOG members have spread thousands of solar cookers in many countries, including Argentina, Burkina Faso, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mali, and Sudan. The Cuisine Solaire website notes that “ULOG clone” solar box cookers are sold over the Internet.
ULOG members follow their founder’s counsel to “practice what you preach” and endeavor to reduce their own ecological impacts in the world and to promote solar cooking in Switzerland. Over 10,000 solar cookers have been sold in Switzerland, making that nation one of the highest per capita users of solar cookers in the world, despite its distance from the equator.
Öhler was as much a great collaborator as a greater designer. Many of the people he inspired and has partnered with are among the leading names of today’s solar cooker movement, such as Wolfgang Scheffler, Michael Götz, and Christine Lippold. Organizations such as Globosol, Solare Bruecke, Solar Energy for West Africa, VER-Solaire and others are closely associated with ULOG and many others have felt its influence.
Kawesa Mukasa of Uganda was a graduate student in Switzerland in the early 1990s when Öhler introduced him to solar cooking. Mukasa now heads the Solar Connect Association, one of the leading solar cooker organizations in Africa. Jean-Claude Pulfer, once a protégé of Öhler, now works in Paraguay where he is a partner in one of the most successful solar cooker programs in South America.
With so many people following in his footsteps, the impact of Öhler's work will not only live on, it will grow far, far greater in years to come.
- July 2009: Ulrich Öhler's pioneering work in the 1980s inspired a wave of Swiss solar cooking promoters. For many years, Öhler's house in Basel even served as the country’s main solar cooker information center, maintained by the ULOG group. From 1997 to 2007, the Centre Neuchâtelois de Cuisine Solaire (CNCS) in the small town of Neuchâtel served as the country’s information hub. Visitors could see a variety of solar cooker models or ask questions of the centre’s leader, Michael Götz. In addition to this resource, ULOG group and GloboSol maintain a travelling solar crêperie in which they prepare solar pancakes for music festivals and ecology fairs throughout Switzerland. 2008 was a year of changes and new opportunities. The information center moved to a prominent location in the international city of Geneva. Götz is thrilled with the location. “Finally we have a room with a shop-window, only a few steps from Geneva’s train station!” Alain Cassani, Annick Steiner, and Yves Ronchetti of the association SOLEMYO manage the shop and information center, conduct solar cooker construction trainings, and schedule solar crêperie events, while Götz, operating as ExSol, works on consulting, education, technical development, and other projects.