Service station closures on horizon in Italy

Italy is one of the European countries with the highest number of filling stations. At the UNEM 2023 assembly, there was talk of closures.

It is the country of sun, sea, dolce vita, but also of fuel stations. Yes, because Italy is one of the 27 European nations with the largest number of filling stations in the territory.

The topic was addressed during the UNEM 2023 assembly (Energy Union for Mobility, former Oil Union), during which there was talk of "rationalization of the network", something that the market has been trying to do for years also to combat illegality, now well rooted in the sector.

Here's what could happen.

Let's start with the numbers. In Italy today there are about 22,700 filling stations, i.e. about one plant for every 1,700 cars (based on the latest statistical report of UNEM itself published at the end of 2021). This is a very high number, far from the European benchmark, stopped at 12,000 petrol pumps.

An important difference, which is immediately clear when, for example, you go outside Italy by car for work or vacation, driving on the motorway and wondering why the distance of 50/60 km between one refreshment point and another.

As illustrated by UNEM during the 2023 annual assembly, what might seem an apparent problem of other nations, therefore, is actually our problem: in short, we have too many points where to fill up.

A word from the experts

During the assembly this important topic was addressed during the second round table scheduled in the agenda, which saw the participation of Massimo Bitonci, Undersecretary at the Ministry of Enterprise and Made in Italy, Massimiliano Fedriga, President of the State-Regions Conference, Vinicio Peluffo, Member X Chamber Commission, PD, Luca Squeri, Group Leader X Chamber Commission, Energy Manager Forza Italia and Riccardo Zucconi, Head of Energy Group Fratelli d'Italia Camera.

The managers briefly explained that the problem, all Italian, dates back to many years ago, in particular in the early 60s, when, in the period of the economic boom, many stations began to be born, even quite close to each other.

During the second half of the last century, the institutions worked hard to try to reduce the important initial number, passing first to a concession system and, subsequently, to the current authorization system.

Today the fuel sector in Italy is managed for about half by four main providers and for the remaining part by minor operators, both with less noble but still historical brands, and without brands (the so-called white pumps).

The problems of the sector

But what are the problems that the sector is going through and why is it really important to rationalize the network according to UNEM? According to the numbers exposed by the association, of the 22,700 stations a number between 4,000 and 5,000 would currently be operating with illegal delivery methods (both fiscal and structural, ed).

According to the participants in the round table, these stations, which do not comply with the rules, should be the first to have to close in the coming years, following territorial controls carried out by the competent authorities (for example by the Guardia di Finanza).

The objective of the Government, in agreement with the various trade associations, is clearly to guarantee the final consumer a regular supply of fuels, both in relation to their quality and in relation to price and quantity (as well as the mixture).

But that's not all. To reduce the presence of distributors in the area (not only illegal ones) – something that is now useful given the low consumption of cars and the various mobility alternatives to petrol and diesel – some stations could also be converted to hubs supplying electricity or hydrogen, to power the cars and trucks of the future. We just have to wait, therefore, to see how the sector will react to these changes.