The light-induced proton transport in bacteriorhodopsin has been considered as a model for other light-induced proton pumps. However, the exact nature of this process is still unclear. For example, it is not entirely clear what the driving force of the initial proton transfer is and, in particular, whether it reflects electrostatic forces or other effects. The present work simulates the primary proton transfer (PT) by a specialized combination of the EVB and the QCFF/PI methods. This combination allows us to obtain sufficient sampling and a quantitative free energy profile for the PT at different protein configurations. The calculated profiles provide new insight about energetics of the primary PT and its coupling to the protein conformational changes. Our finding confirms the tentative analysis of an earlier work (A. Warshel, Conversion of light energy to electrostatic energy in the proton pump of Halobacterium halobium, Photochem. Photobiol. 30 (1979) 285-290) and determines that the overall PT process is driven by the energetics of the charge separation between the Schiff base and its counterion Asp85. Apparently, the light-induced relaxation of the steric energy of the chromophore leads to an increase in the ion-pair distance, and this drives the PT process. Our use of the linear response approximation allows us to estimate the change in the protein conformational energy and provides the first computational description of the coupling between the protein structural changes and the PT process. It is also found that the PT is not driven by twist-modulated changes of the Schiff base's pK , changes in the hydrogen bond directionality, or other non-electrostatic effects. Overall, based on a consistent use of structural information as the starting point for converging free energy calculations, we conclude that the primary event should be described as a light-induced formation of an unstable ground state, whose relaxation leads to charge separation and to the destabilization of the ion-pair state. This provides the driving force for the subsequent PT steps.