Energy efficiency is one of the most critical concerns for wireless sensor networks. By allowing sensor nodes in close proximity to cooperate in transmission to form a virtual multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) system, recent progress in wireless MIMO communications can be exploited to boost the system throughput, or equivalently reduce the energy consumption for the same throughput and BER target. However, these cooperative transmission strategies may incur additional energy cost and system overhead. In this paper, assuming that data collectors are equipped with antenna arrays and superior processing capability, energy efficiency of relevant traditional and cooperative transmission strategies: Single-input-multiple-output (SIMO), space-time block coding (STBC), and spatial multiplexing (SM) are studied. Analysis in the wideband regime reveals that, while receive diversity introduces significant improvement in both energy efficiency and spectral efficiency, further improvement due to the transmit diversity of STBC is limited, as opposed to the superiority of the SM scheme especially for non-trivial spectral efficiency. These observations are further confirmed in our analysis of more realistic systems with limited bandwidth, finite constellation sizes, and a target error rate. Based on this analysis, general guidelines are presented for optimal transmission strategy selection in system level and link level, aiming at minimum energy consumption while meeting different requirements. The proposed selection rules, especially those based on system-level metrics, are easy to implement for sensor applications. The framework provided here may also be readily extended to other scenarios or applications.