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In this paper, a power estimation methodology operating at the instruction-level is proposed. The methodology is tightly related to the characteristics of the system architecture, mainly in terms of one or more target processors, the memory sub-system, the system-level buses and the coprocessors. In this system-level framework, our main goal is to define a power model for CPU cores at the instruction level. First, the proposed power model deals with a general five-stage pipeline processor architecture, then, the model is extended to VLIW processors. The derivation of a VLIW instruction-level power model results to be intractable from the point of view of spatial complexity (which grows exponentially w.r.t. the number of possible operations in the ISA). In order to tackle this complexity, a new kind of simplification, based on the original concept of separability of processor functional units, is introduced. The proposed system-level methodology is the first step toward a more general framework to support the design of power-oriented applications through hardware/software co-design.