The proposed district heating systems in the UK are very different to the one that exploded under the streets of New York.

Does news of a massive explosion in New York caused by a ruptured steam pipe give us yet another thing to add to an ever increasing list of things to worry about?

Well I am not going to stop walking the streets of London in case a steam pipe ruptures and sends tons of rubble flying through the air.

To the best of my knowledge we don’t have networks of steam pipes under our streets. Sure, we have them in hospitals and factories where a supply of high temperature steam is handy for sterilising things. But the growth of CHP systems where waste heat is piped into buildings is not going to mean we are all at added risk from being blown up.

Steam is a valuable commodity due to its high pressure which is useful for spinning turbines in power stations, and in days gone past steam locomotives, the boilers of which used to occasionally explode and kill the odd bystander.

But the heat from CHP is much lower grade and contains far less energy. It is hot water rather than steam, which means much lower pressures than steam, which means no dramatic explosions. The worst that could happen is a hot geyser if a pipe from a CHP plant ruptured. So relax, though there will probably be something else to worry about next week.

Boiler explosion
A boiler explosion on a steam locomotive around 1850.