I visited New York again recently, and couldn't help noticing the increase in steam leaks, caused by Hurricane Sandy damage.
Steam arising from vents and manhole covers in the road is a common sight in Manhattan. But I only recently learned what this was all about.
Rather than piping gas into every building, and having a boiler on every floor, New York pumps steam around the city instead, in a network dating back to 1882.
The steam is produced in several huge power plants dotted around the city, with around 50% being a by-product of electricity generation. This means that it’s actually more efficient than conventional domestic heating systems.
I'm surprised that New York doesn't make more of this amazing ancient network. It would be great to do a tour of one of the power stations, or to have a little museum of the history of the system. It is run by Consolidated Edison (Con Ed), and its roots trace back to the early electric company run by Thomas Edison himself.
In lieu of any further information, I've put together a little map of the network. Next time I visit New York, I might use it to try and spot some of the buildings.