We characterize the performance and energy attributes of scientific applications based on nonlinear partial differential equations (PDEs). where the dominant cost is that of sparse linear system solution. We obtain performance and energy metrics using cycle-accurate emulations on a processor and memory system derived from the PowerPC RISC architecture with extensions to resemble the processor in the BlueGene/L. These results indicate that low-power modes of CPUs such as Dynamic Voltage Scaling (DVS) can indeed result in energy savings at the expense of performance degradation. We then consider the impact of certain memory subsystem optimizations to demonstrate that these optimizations in conjunction with DVS can provide faster execution time and lower energy consumption. For example, on the optimized architecture, if DVS is used to scale down the processor to 600MHz, execution times are faster by 45% with energy reductions of 75% compared to the original architecture at IGHz. The insights gained from this study can help scientific applications better utilize the low-power modes of processors as well as guide the selection of hardware optimizations in future power-aware, high-performance computers.