Italy is Europe’s leader for natural gas vehicles. It’s NGV population exceeds 1.13 million vehicles, placing it seventh among NGV countries globally. Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) refueling stations number 1,326 at the end of March 2019. This short overview of the current NGV market is prepared by NGV Global with the assistance of in-country commentators.
For many years Italy’s natural gas refueling network has been consistently growing at almost one new filling station per week.
The CNG network renovation and development process started at the beginning of the 90’s. In 1992 there were 150 installations, mainly in the central and north-east areas of the country. Now all regions have NGV refuelling stations, excluding the island of Sardinia which is entirely without gas supply.
Over the next decade further momentum was added by some important regions (e.g. Piemonte, Lombardia, Trentino-Alto Adige). There was increased attention paid to the environmental benefits of NGVs, and fuel operators were successfully encouraged to expand the CNG network in their territories.
In the 2010’s, in response to the attention paid to the benefits of using natural gas fuel for long distance transportation and logistics operations LNG and/or L-CNG refuelling stations begun to appear, today numbering 38.
Refuelling stations are available also on many the highways; recently the Italian Ministry of Transport, in underlining the importance of developing also the NG distribution network, solicited the motorway concessionaires companies to present the detailed plan for CNG and LNG dissemination (such plan was to be presented by December 31, 2018).
CNG retailers suffered a significant revenue decrease in recent years, due to the decline of the average sales arising from the increasing plants number versus reducing vehicles. See comments under Vehicles below. Growth in 2019 is anticipated.
Biomethane (renewable natural gas)
The use of biomethane as renewable energy source in transport sector is receiving growing attention in Italy, as it is worldwide, as part of the movement toward sustainable mobility and ultra-low carbon fuels. It is expected to play an increasingly significant role over the next decade, especially given this fuel can be used by natural gas vehicles without any changes to existing vehicle technology.
Additionally, biomethane can be mixed with fossil-natural gas in any combination to increase the emission advantage of this gaseous fuel.
For the years 2014-2017, Italian NGVs were in decline, substantially due to the lack of new NGV models offered by car manufacturers. (In this period there were no significant changes in fuel price competitiveness and the refueling network continued to grow). Noticeable was the lack of successful replacement of the FIAT Multipla, one of the most popular OEM-NGV on the Italian market since the end of the 90’s.
A turnaround came in 2018, mainly due to the wider NG model range offered by the VW-Audi-Seat-Skoda group; that upward tracking looks set to continue into 2019 and beyond, helped in part by the growing awareness of the environmental benefits derived from consumption of renewable natural gas (RNG). New vehicle orders in the first half of 2018 were so high that a temporarily to stop new sales of the Golf occurred due to overbooking.
Despite Italy’s major OEM, Fiat, previously a dominant force in NGV production and range, being extremely quiet with regards new models, there is renewed interest in the NGV marketplace. Major energy suppliers are reinvesting in this sector which should re-stimulate OEM activity. Even for a relatively mature NGV market that Italy represents, the famous chicken-and-egg paradox can still affect NGV development. Government and policy makers appear to become distracted by socially appealing technologies and fail to recognise that the NG market is still relatively young and in need of ongoing support. Yet this same market is ready now to be a major contributor to achievement of national emissions targets.
Today in Italy, natural gas fuel system technology and vehicle prices are equal to or better than traditional fuels and emissions performance is better, especially with the increasing availability of biomethane (RNG). 2019 will unfold with great interest for all market stakeholders.