Manhattan in Shades of Gray - gricketts
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Steamy Night

Throughout New York City plumes of steam raise up from the underground, sometimes from giant white and red tubes, or from manhole covers. Some of that steam streaming into the air is the same type used to clean dishes in New York restaurants, sterilize hospital equipment and even heat buildings.

Con Edison not only supplies electricity to New York City, but it also operates and maintains the world’s largest network of steam pipes. It began with 300 customers during the late 1800s. By the 1920/30s Con Edison was providing steam to 2,500 customers across more than 100,000 commercial and residential buildings.

Without the steam pipe network, Saumil Shukla, vice president of steam operations at Con Edison said, “Had it not been for the steam system, the postcard skyline that you see of Manhattan would be totally different. You’d be looking at every one of these high-rises with some type of chimney coming out of it.”

The steam raising from underground is not from pipe leaks, but created when water and other liquid falls on the 350 degree steam pipes. As a result, wintertime steam plumes are much bigger when snow and rain fall through the manholes. It is also why the steam coming from the manholes is not scalding hot.

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