A heat pump combined with Aquifer Thermal Energy Storage (ATES) has high potential in efficiently and sustainably providing thermal energy for space heating and cooling. This makes the subsurface, including its groundwater, of crucial importance for primary energy savings. The regulation of ATES systems is similar in many countries around the world. This paper seeks solutions for the institutional hindrances to the diffusion of ATES. The use of aquifers by individual ATES systems can be optimized to maximize their efficiency on the one hand, and to optimize the performance of the regional subsurface for energy storage on the other. The application of ATES in an aquifer has similar properties as other common resource pool problems. Only with detailed information and feedback about the actual subsurface status, a network of ATES systems can work towards an optimum for both the subsurface and buildings, instead of striving for a local optimum for individual buildings. Future governance of the subsurface may include the self-organization or self-governance. For that the ATES systems need a complementary framework; interpretation of interaction, feedback and adaptable and dynamic control interpretations are the key elements for the optimal and sustainable use of the subsurface. (C) 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.