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The energy consumption per transmitted bit is becoming a crucial figure of merit for communication channels. In this paper, we study the design tradeoffs in photodetectors, utilizing the energy per bit as a benchmark. We propose a generic model for a photodetector that takes optical and electrical properties into account. Using our formalism, we show how the parasitic capacitance of photodetectors can drastically alter the parameter values that lead to the optimal design. Finally, we apply our theory to a practical case study for an integrated plasmonic photodetector, showing that energies per bit below 100 attojoules are feasible despite metallic losses and within noise limitations without the introduction of an optical cavity or voltage amplifying receiver circuits.