Studying the popularization of solar water heaters (SWHs) is significant for understanding China's transition to green energy systems. Using Dezhou as a case study, this paper presents new angles on analyzing SWH deployment in China by addressing both the economic potential and the institutional dimensions at the local level. Using estimates from the demand-side of hot water for a typical three-person household in Dezhou, the paper evaluates the economic potential of a SWH in saving electricity and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Then, expanding the analysis beyond economics, we take an institutionalist approach to study the institutional factors that contribute to Dezhou's success in SWH adoptions. By examining the five main actors in Dezhou's energy regime, we find that Dezhou's SWH deployment is driven by an urge to develop businesses and the local economy, and its success results from at least five unique factors, including the development of SWH industrial clusters in Dezhou, big manufacturers' market leadership in SWH innovations, a tight private enterprise-local government relation, geographic location within the SWH industrial belt, and the adaptive attitude of Dezhou's households towards natural resource scarcity.