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This paper proposes a new performance metric for the evaluation of wireless sensor networks that reflects the cost of operation per unit time. This metric includes traditional metrics and considers the distribution of sensor energy consumption, which was not considered before. Focusing on a single-hop wireless sensor network, it is shown that it is not enough to consider just the expected energy consumed per measurement, unless sensors are equipped with unlimited energy resources. The paper illustrates the use of the metric in large wireless sensor networks for detection applications, relating it to a previously proposed metric and providing further insight in the selection of modulation techniques.