New York City steam system

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Steam vapor being vented through a typical Con Edison orange and white stack on Seventh Avenue at West 20th Street. Steam vapor such as this can be caused by a leak in Con Ed's steam system – which heats, cools and provides power for buildings in Manhattan up to East 89th and West 96th Street – or by cooler water contacting the outside of a steam pipe.[1]

The New York City steam system is a district heating system which takes steam produced by steam generating stations and carries it under the streets of Manhattan to heat, cool, or supply power to high rise buildings and businesses. Some New York businesses and facilities also use the steam for cleaning and disinfection.

The New York Steam Company began providing service in lower Manhattan on March 3, 1882.[2] Today, Consolidated Edison operates the largest commercial steam system in the world.[3] The organization within Con Edison that is responsible for the system's operation is known as Steam Operations, providing steam service to over 1,700 customers and serving commercial and residential establishments in Manhattan from Battery Park to 96th Street uptown on the West side and 89th Street on the East side of Manhattan.[4] Roughly 24 billion pounds (11,000,000 t) of steam flow through the system every year.[1]

Effects on the environment[edit]

Cogeneration and Heat Recovery Steam Generation (HRSG) significantly increase the efficiency of fuel usage and thereby reduces the emission of pollutants, such as NOx, sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and particulate matter, and reduce the city's carbon footprint. Approximately 30% of the ConEd steam system’s installed capacity and 50% of the annual steam generated comes from cogeneration.[5] Con Edison is promoting the use of steam for cooling in the summer months, something that can be accomplished with the installation of absorption chillers.[6] Such trigeneration systems result in additional energy and pollution savings, while reducing peak electrical loads.

Clouds of condensation can sometimes be seen rising from manholes in Manhattan through orange and white "chimneys". This can be caused by external water being boiled by contact with the steam pipes or by leaks in the steam system itself.[1]

At least 12 steam pipe explosions have occurred in New York City since 1987.[7] The most recent incident was the 2007 New York City steam explosion. Another major incident occurred on June 28, 1996, at the plant on East 75th Street.[8]


West 59th Street plant

See also[edit]



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