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Barcelona — Italy's gas operator Snam said Wednesday it will boost its infrastructure investment by 10% over the next four years to Eur5.2 billion ($6.4 billion) amid sustained gas demand growth and the region's accelerated exit from coal.

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The company said that it will invest Eur4.6 billion in the gas transport network over 2018-2021. The main projects will include the completion of reverse-flow into northern Europe; the start of the Trans Adriatic Pipeline to enable the diversification of supply sources with Azeri gas; and the gasification of the island territory of Sardinia in 2021 -- which up to now has been gas-free.

Snam CEO Marco Alvera said that the investments would "favor the security and flexibility of the Italian gas system, which on several occasions over the last few months has shown greater reliability compared to other European countries."

The company said it would spend another Eur600 million for increasing the gas storage capacity and developing LNG regasification infrastructure in Italy. It will also undertake other measures to beef up the grid security in light of strains on supply and demand experienced in recent years.

Additionally, the company is targeting to improve interconnection of Italy's gas infrastructure with other European countries following a recovery in demand over the last two years.

The recovery stems from a growing need of imports from diversified routes in light of declining domestic production of gas and declining use of coal across various countries.

In Europe, imports have been growing at 30% since 2014, according to the group, while domestic gas demand has been increasing since last 12 consecutive quarters.

Snam said that it could possibly develop a biomethane chain for transport, following the recent approval of a new legislation by the EU to allow Eur4.7 billion of incentives to the sector.

To date, Snam has already received about 500 requests from potential biomethane producers to connect their upcoming biomethane production sites to the existing gas grid. The new regulation is expected to foster further market growth from the current level of around 3 Bcm of biomethane per year.

Snam is also studying opportunities in the small-scale LNG and coastal deposits sectors to strengthen the company's role in the energy transition and to support development of the use of gas and LNG in private and heavy transport.

The company said Wednesday that the combined volume of gas injected into the country's network from pipelines and national production in 2017 increased 6% year on year to 74.6 Bcm.

Gas storage capacity increased 2% year on year to 12.2 Bcm, with 19.9 Bcm of gas moving through the system in 2017 -- roughly unchanged year on year.

In the LNG segment, Snam regasified 0.6 Bcm of gas at its Panigaglia terminal during the year, up threefold from 2016.

During the year, Snam received 15 LNG tankers, up from 5 in the first nine months of 2016, it said.

--Gianluca Baratti,
--Edited by Pankti Mehta,