Where does it all come from?
Con Edison operates the world’s largest network of steam pipes.
The steam system started with just 350 customers back in the late 1800s. At its peak in the 1920s and 1930s, the pipes had 2,500 customers across more than 100,000 commercial and residential buildings, The New York Times reported.
Today, the network runs 105 miles, delivering steam to nearly 2,000 buildings throughout the city, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Empire State Building, and the United Nations headquarters.
“Had it not been for the steam system, the postcard skyline that you see of Manhattan would be totally different,” Saumil Shukla, vice president of steam operations at Con Edison told the NYT last year. “You’d be looking at every one of these high-rises with some type of chimney coming out of it.”
The company has five power plants throughout New York, where massive boilers produce steam that gets carried out of the plants, beneath the ground, and to Con Edison’s customers via a web of pipes.
A gallon of water can be converted into eight pounds of steam, according to Gotham Gazette. In the winter, as much as eight million pounds of steam can be generated each hour to keep buildings warm and heat up water. During summer, the steam is used to power cooling systems, supplanting some of the demand for electricity.
It’s a cleaner and more efficient alternative to having each building operate its own boiler. Speaking to Gotham Gazette, Con Edison spokesperson Joe Petta compared it to mass transit: “Which is better for the environment, 50 people riding to the city on a bus or 50 people riding 50 different vehicles?”