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How the New York City Steam System Works

By District Energy posted 07-13-2021 16:57


Untapped New York


The latest Untapped New York podcast episode is out, all about how the New York City steam system works. Have you ever wondered about those orange and white smokestacks you see in the middle of New York’s streets with steam flowing out of them? To find out more, we’ve gone straight to the source by interviewing Frank Cuomo, the general manager for steam operations at Con Edison. We also spoke with Mark Reigelman, an artist who used the steam system for one of our favorite guerrilla art installations ever.

Today, there are about 105 miles of steam pipes underneath New York City’s streets, which serve as a cleaner source of energy than oil or coal to over 1,500 buildings. Some of New York City’s most famous buildings are steam powered, including the Empire State Building, the Chrysler BuildingGrand Central Terminal, the United NationsRockefeller Center and more.

The story of steam actually begins in Ancient Rome, where enterprising Romans were already building steam pipe systems for heating buildings and baths. The technology spread to the rest of Europe, but it was in the United States during the late 19th century. Inventors and businessmen turned it into a commercially viable heating option for towns and cities. New York was the first major city in the U.S. to have a steam system and still has the largest one to this day. In fact, if you add up the next five largest steam systems in America, it’s still smaller than New York City’s.

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