In this study, we analyzed the heat requirement of membrane distillation (MD) to investigate the trade-off between the evaporation efficiency and driving force efficiency in a single effect MD system. We found that there exists a non-zero net driving temperature difference that maximizes efficiency. This is the minimum net driving temperature difference necessary for a rational operational strategy because below the minimum net driving temperature, both the productivity and efficiency can be increased by increasing the temperature difference. The minimum net driving temperature has a similar magnitude to the boiling point elevation (~0.5 °C for seawater), and depends on the properties of the membrane and the heat exchanger. The minimum net driving temperature difference concept can be used to understand the occurrence of optimal values of other parameters, such as flux, membrane thickness, and membrane length, if these parameters are varied in a way that consequently varies the net driving temperature difference.