Shunt (electrical)

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In electronics, a shunt is a device which creates a low-resistance path for electric current, to allow it to pass around another point in the circuit. [1] The origin of the term is in the verb 'to shunt' meaning to turn away or follow a different path.

Electronics physics, engineering, technology and applications that deal with the emission, flow and control of electrons in vacuum and matter

Electronics comprises the physics, engineering, technology and applications that deal with the emission, flow and control of electrons in vacuum and matter. The identification of the electron in 1897, along with the invention of the vacuum tube, which could amplify and rectify small electrical signals, inaugurated the field of electronics and the electron age.

Electric current flow of electric charge

An electric current is a flow of electric charge. In electric circuits this charge is often carried by electrons moving through a wire. It can also be carried by ions in an electrolyte, or by both ions and electrons such as in an ionized gas (plasma).

Electrical network interconnection of electrical components or a model of such an interconnection, consisting of electrical elements

An electrical network is an interconnection of electrical components or a model of such an interconnection, consisting of electrical elements. An electrical circuit is a network consisting of a closed loop, giving a return path for the current. Linear electrical networks, a special type consisting only of sources, linear lumped elements, and linear distributed elements, have the property that signals are linearly superimposable. They are thus more easily analyzed, using powerful frequency domain methods such as Laplace transforms, to determine DC response, AC response, and transient response.


Defective device bypass

One example is in miniature Christmas lights which are wired in series. When the filament burns out in one of the incandescent light bulbs, the full line voltage appears across the burnt out bulb. A shunt across the burnt out filament will then short out to bypass the burnt filament and allow the rest of the string to light. If too many lights burn out however, a shunt will also burn out, requiring the use of a multimeter to find the point of failure.

Incandescent light bulb Electric light with a wire filament heated until it glows

An incandescent light bulb, incandescent lamp or incandescent light globe is an electric light with a wire filament heated to such a high temperature that it glows with visible light (incandescence). The filament is protected from oxidation with a glass or fused quartz bulb that is filled with inert gas or a vacuum. In a halogen lamp, filament evaporation is slowed by a chemical process that redeposits metal vapor onto the filament, thereby extending its life.

Voltage difference in the electric potential between two points in space

Voltage, electric potential difference, electric pressure or electric tension is the difference in electric potential between two points. The difference in electric potential between two points in a static electric field is defined as the work needed per unit of charge to move a test charge between the two points. In the International System of Units, the derived unit for voltage is named volt. In SI units, work per unit charge is expressed as joules per coulomb, where 1 volt = 1 joule per 1 coulomb. The official SI definition for volt uses power and current, where 1 volt = 1 watt per 1 ampere. This definition is equivalent to the more commonly used 'joules per coulomb'. Voltage or electric potential difference is denoted symbolically by V, but more often simply as V, for instance in the context of Ohm's or Kirchhoff's circuit laws.

Multimeter Electronic measuring instrument that combines several measurement functions in one unit

A multimeter or a multitester, also known as a VOM (volt-ohm-milliammeter), is an electronic measuring instrument that combines several measurement functions in one unit. A typical multimeter can measure voltage, current, and resistance. Analog multimeters use a microammeter with a moving pointer to display readings. Digital multimeters have a numeric display, and may also show a graphical bar representing the measured value. Digital multimeters are now far more common due to their cost and precision, but analog multimeters are still preferable in some cases, for example when monitoring a rapidly varying value.


In photovoltaics, the term is widely used to describe an unwanted short circuit between the front and back surface contacts of a solar cell, usually caused by wafer damage.

Photovoltaics method of generating electrical power by converting solar radiation into direct current electricity

Photovoltaics (PV) is the conversion of light into electricity using semiconducting materials that exhibit the photovoltaic effect, a phenomenon studied in physics, photochemistry, and electrochemistry.

Solar cell electrical device that converts the energy of light directly into electricity by the photovoltaic effect

A solar cell, or photovoltaic cell, is an electrical device that converts the energy of light directly into electricity by the photovoltaic effect, which is a physical and chemical phenomenon. It is a form of photoelectric cell, defined as a device whose electrical characteristics, such as current, voltage, or resistance, vary when exposed to light. Individual solar cell devices can be combined to form modules, otherwise known as solar panels. In basic terms a single junction silicon solar cell can produce a maximum open-circuit voltage of approximately 0.5 to 0.6 volts.

Wafer (electronics) thin slice of semiconductor material used in the fabrication of integrated circuits

A wafer, also called a slice or substrate, is a thin slice of semiconductor material, such as a crystalline silicon, used in electronics for the fabrication of integrated circuits and in photovoltaics for conventional, wafer-based solar cells. The wafer serves as the substrate for microelectronic devices built in and over the wafer and undergoes many microfabrication process steps such as doping or ion implantation, etching, deposition of various materials, and photolithographic patterning. Finally, the individual microcircuits are separated (dicing) and packaged.

Lightning arrestor

A gas-filled tube can also be used as a shunt, particularly in a lightning arrestor. Neon and other noble gases have a high breakdown voltage, so that normally current will not flow across it. However, a direct lightning strike (such as on a radio tower antenna) will cause the shunt to arc and conduct the massive amount of electricity to ground, protecting transmitters and other equipment.

Gas gaseous object

Gas is one of the four fundamental states of matter. A pure gas may be made up of individual atoms, elemental molecules made from one type of atom, or compound molecules made from a variety of atoms. A gas mixture would contain a variety of pure gases much like the air. What distinguishes a gas from liquids and solids is the vast separation of the individual gas particles. This separation usually makes a colorless gas invisible to the human observer. The interaction of gas particles in the presence of electric and gravitational fields are considered negligible, as indicated by the constant velocity vectors in the image.

Neon Chemical element with atomic number 10

Neon is a chemical element with symbol Ne and atomic number 10. It is a noble gas. Neon is a colorless, odorless, inert monatomic gas under standard conditions, with about two-thirds the density of air. It was discovered in 1898 as one of the three residual rare inert elements remaining in dry air, after nitrogen, oxygen, argon and carbon dioxide were removed. Neon was the second of these three rare gases to be discovered and was immediately recognized as a new element from its bright red emission spectrum. The name neon is derived from the Greek word, νέον, neuter singular form of νέος (neos), meaning new. Neon is chemically inert, and no uncharged neon compounds are known. The compounds of neon currently known include ionic molecules, molecules held together by van der Waals forces and clathrates.

Noble gas group of chemical elements

The noble gases make up a group of chemical elements with similar properties; under standard conditions, they are all odorless, colorless, monatomic gases with very low chemical reactivity. The six noble gases that occur naturally are helium (He), neon (Ne), argon (Ar), krypton (Kr), xenon (Xe), and the radioactive radon (Rn). These elements are all nonmetals. Oganesson (Og) is variously predicted to be a noble gas as well or to break the trend due to relativistic effects; its chemistry has not yet been investigated.

Another older form of lightning arrestor employs a simple narrow spark gap, over which an arc will jump when a high voltage is present. While this is a low cost solution, its high triggering voltage offers almost no protection for modern solid-state electronic devices powered by the protected circuit.

Electrical noise bypass

Capacitors are used as shunts to redirect high-frequency noise to ground before it can propagate to the load or other circuit components.

Capacitor electrical component used to store energy for a short period of time

A capacitor is a passive two-terminal electronic component that stores electrical energy in an electric field. The effect of a capacitor is known as capacitance. While some capacitance exists between any two electrical conductors in proximity in a circuit, a capacitor is a component designed to add capacitance to a circuit. The capacitor was originally known as a condenser or condensator. The original name is still widely used in many languages, but not commonly in English.

Use in electronic filter circuits

The term shunt is used in filter and similar circuits with a ladder topology to refer to the components connected between the line and common. The term is used in this context to distinguish the shunt components connected between the signal and return lines from the components connected in series along the signal line. More generally, the term shunt can be used for a component connected in parallel with another. For instance, shunt m-derived half section is a common filter section from the image impedance method of filter design. [2]

Electronic filter electronic circuit that removes unwanted components from the signal, or enhances wanted ones, or both

Electronic filters are circuits which perform signal processing functions, specifically to remove unwanted frequency components from the signal, to enhance wanted ones, or both. Electronic filters can be:

Image impedance is a concept used in electronic network design and analysis and most especially in filter design. The term image impedance applies to the impedance seen looking into a port of a network. Usually a two-port network is implied but the concept can be extended to networks with more than two ports. The definition of image impedance for a two-port network is the impedance, Zi 1, seen looking into port 1 when port 2 is terminated with the image impedance, Zi 2, for port 2. In general, the image impedances of ports 1 and 2 will not be equal unless the network is symmetrical with respect to the ports.

Diodes as shunts

Where devices are vulnerable to reverse polarity of a signal or power supply, a diode may be used to protect the circuit. If connected in series with the circuit it simply prevents reversed current, but if connected in parallel it can shunt the reversed supply, causing a fuse or other current limiting circuit to open.

All semiconductor diodes have a threshold voltage typically between ½ Volt and 1 Volt that must be exceeded before significant current will flow through the diode in the normally allowed direction. Two anti-parallel shunt diodes (one to conduct current in each direction) can be used to limit the signal flowing past them to no more than their threshold voltages, in order to protect later components from overload.

Shunts as circuit protection

When a circuit must be protected from overvoltage and there are failure modes in the power supply that can produce such overvoltages, the circuit may be protected by a device commonly called a crowbar circuit. When this device detects an overvoltage it causes a short circuit between the power supply and its return. This will cause both an immediate drop in voltage (protecting the device) and an instantaneous high current which is expected to open a current sensitive device (such as a fuse or circuit breaker). This device is called a crowbar as it is likened to dropping an actual crowbar across a set of bus bars (exposed electrical conductors).

Battle short

On warships, it is common to install battle short shunts across fuses for essential equipment before entering combat. This disables overcurrent protection at a time when removing power to the equipment is not a safe reaction.[ citation needed ]

Use in current measuring

50 A shunt resistor, with provision for four-terminal sensing Shuntresistor50A.jpg
50 A shunt resistor, with provision for four-terminal sensing

An ammeter shunt allows the measurement of current values too large to be directly measured by a particular ammeter. In this case, a separate shunt, a resistor of very low but accurately known resistance, is placed in parallel with a voltmeter, so that all of the current to be measured will flow through the shunt. The resistance is chosen so that the resultant voltage drop is measurable, but low enough not to disrupt the circuit. The voltage across the shunt is proportional to the current flowing through it, and so the measured voltage can be scaled to directly display the current value. [3] [4]

Shunts are rated by maximum current, and voltage drop at that current. For example, a 500 A, 75 mV shunt would have a resistance of 150 microohm , a maximum allowable current of 500 amps and at that current the voltage drop would be 75 millivolts. By convention, most shunts are designed to drop 50 mV, 75 mV or 100 mV when operating at their full rated current and most ammeters consist of a shunt and a voltmeter with full-scale deflections of 50, 75, or 100 mV. All shunts have a derating factor for continuous (2+ minutes) use, 66% being the most common, so the example shunt should not be operated above 330 A (and 50 m drop) longer than that.

This limitation is due to thermal limits at which a shunt will no longer operate correctly. For manganin, a common shunt material, at 80 °C thermal drift begins to occur, at 120 °C thermal drift is a significant problem where error, depending on the design of the shunt, can be several percent and at 140 °C the manganin alloy becomes permanently damaged due to annealing resulting in the resistance value drifting up or down.[ citation needed ]

If the current being measured is also at a high voltage potential this voltage will be present in the connecting leads too and in the reading instrument itself. [3] Sometimes, the shunt is inserted in the return leg (grounded side) to avoid this problem. Some alternatives to shunts can provide isolation from the high voltage by not directly connecting the meter to the high voltage circuit. Examples of devices that can provide this isolation are Hall effect current sensors and current transformers (see clamp meters). Current shunts are considered more accurate and cheaper than Hall effect devices. Common accuracy specifications of such devices are ±0.1%, ±0.25% or ±0.5%.

The Thomas-type double manganin walled shunt and MI type (improved Thomas-type design) were used by NIST and other standards laboratories as the legal reference of an ohm until superseded in 1990 by the quantum Hall effect. Thomas-type shunts are still used as secondary standards to take very accurate current measurements, as using quantum Hall effect is a time consuming process. The accuracy of these types of shunts is measured in the ppm and sub-ppm scale of drift per year of set resistance. [5]

Where the circuit is grounded (earthed) on one side, a current measuring shunt can be inserted either in the ungrounded conductor or in the grounded conductor. A shunt in the ungrounded conductor must be insulated for the full circuit voltage to ground; the measuring instrument must be inherently isolated from ground or must include a resistive voltage divider or an isolation amplifier between the relatively high common-mode voltage and lower voltages inside the instrument. A shunt in the grounded conductor may not detect leakage current that bypasses the shunt, but it will not experience high common-mode voltage to ground. The load is removed from a direct path to ground, which may create problems for control circuitry, result in unwanted emissions, or both.

See also

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An ammeter is a measuring instrument used to measure the current in a circuit. Electric currents are measured in amperes (A), hence the name. Instruments used to measure smaller currents, in the milliampere or microampere range, are designated as milliammeters or microammeters. Early ammeters were laboratory instruments which relied on the Earth's magnetic field for operation. By the late 19th century, improved instruments were designed which could be mounted in any position and allowed accurate measurements in electric power systems. It is generally represented by letter 'A' in a circle. Ammeters have very low resistance and are always connected in series in any circuit.

Rectifier AC-DC conversion device; electrical device that converts alternating current (AC), which periodically reverses direction, to direct current (DC), which flows in only one direction

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Zener diode diode that allows current to flow in the reverse direction

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A varistor is an electronic component with an electrical resistance that varies with the applied voltage. Also known as a voltage-dependent resistor (VDR), it has a nonlinear, non-ohmic current–voltage characteristic that is similar to that of a diode. In contrast to a diode however, it has the same characteristic for both directions of traversing current. Traditionally, varistors were indeed constructed by connecting two rectifiers, such as the copper-oxide or germanium-oxide rectifier in anti-parallel configuration. At low voltage the varistor has a high electrical resistance which decreases as the voltage is raised. Modern varistors are primarily based on sintered ceramic metal-oxide materials which exhibit directional behavior only on a microscopic scale. This type is commonly known as the metal-oxide varistor (MOV).

In electronics, a linear regulator is a system used to maintain a steady voltage. The resistance of the regulator varies in accordance with the load resulting in a constant output voltage. The regulating device is made to act like a variable resistor, continuously adjusting a voltage divider network to maintain a constant output voltage and continually dissipating the difference between the input and regulated voltages as waste heat. By contrast, a switching regulator uses an active device that switches on and off to maintain an average value of output. Because the regulated voltage of a linear regulator must always be lower than input voltage, efficiency is limited and the input voltage must be high enough to always allow the active device to drop some voltage.

Transient-voltage-suppression diode electronic component , power diode

A transient-voltage-suppression (TVS) diode, also transil or thyrector, is an electronic component used to protect electronics from voltage spikes induced on connected wires.

Voltage spike fast, short duration electrical transient in voltage in an electrical circuit

In electrical engineering, spikes are fast, short duration electrical transients in voltage, current, or transferred energy in an electrical circuit.

A surge protector is an appliance or device designed to protect electrical devices from voltage spikes.

DIAC diode that conducts current only after its breakover voltage has been reached momentarily

The DIAC is a diode that conducts electrical current only after its breakover voltage, VBO, has been reached momentarily. The term is an acronym of "diode for alternating current".

Voltage regulator regulator, designed to automatically maintain a constant voltage level;may: use a simple feed-forward design or include negative feedback, use an electromechanical mechanism or electronic components

A voltage regulator is a system designed to automatically maintain a constant voltage level. A voltage regulator may use a simple feed-forward design or may include negative feedback. It may use an electromechanical mechanism, or electronic components. Depending on the design, it may be used to regulate one or more AC or DC voltages.

An antifuse is an electrical device that performs the opposite function to a fuse. Whereas a fuse starts with a low resistance and is designed to permanently break an electrically conductive path, an antifuse starts with a high resistance and is designed to permanently create an electrically conductive path. This technology has many applications.

In an electrical system, a ground loop or earth loop occurs when two points of a circuit both intended to be at ground reference potential have a potential between them. This can be caused, for example, in a signal circuit referenced to ground, if enough current is flowing in the ground to cause two points to be at different potentials.

A snubber is a device used to suppress ("snub") a phenomenon such as voltage transients in electrical systems, pressure transients in fluid systems or excess force or rapid movement in mechanical systems.

Crowbar (circuit) Type of electrical circuit

A crowbar circuit is an electrical circuit used for preventing an overvoltage condition of a power supply unit from damaging the circuits attached to the power supply. It operates by putting a short circuit or low resistance path across the voltage output (Vo), quite like were one to drop a crowbar across the output terminals of the power supply. Crowbar circuits are frequently implemented using a thyristor, TRIAC, trisil or thyratron as the shorting device. Once triggered, they depend on the current-limiting circuitry of the power supply or, if that fails, the blowing of the line fuse or tripping the circuit breaker.

Trisil is a trade name for a thyristor surge protection device, an electronic component designed to protect electronic circuits against overvoltage. Unlike a transient voltage suppression diodes, such as Transil, a Trisil acts as a crowbar device, switching ON when the voltage on it exceeds its breakover voltage.

Overvoltage when the voltage in a circuit is raised above its upper design limit

When the voltage in a circuit or part of it is raised above its upper design limit, this is known as overvoltage. The conditions may be hazardous. Depending on its duration, the overvoltage event can be transient—a voltage spike—or permanent, leading to a power surge.

Transient voltage suppressor

A transient voltage suppressor or TVS is a general classification of an array of devices that are designed to react to sudden or momentary overvoltage conditions. One such common device used for this purpose is known as the transient voltage suppression diode that is simply a Zener diode designed to protect electronics device against overvoltages. Another design alternative applies a family of products that are known as metal-oxide varistors (MOV) that protect electronic circuits and electrical equipment.

Decoupling capacitor capacitor used to decouple one part of an electrical circuit from another

A decoupling capacitor is a capacitor used to decouple one part of an electrical network (circuit) from another. Noise caused by other circuit elements is shunted through the capacitor, reducing the effect it has on the rest of the circuit. An alternative name is bypass capacitor as it is used to bypass the power supply or other high impedance component of a circuit.

Current sensing

In electrical engineering, current sensing is any one of several techniques used to measure electric current. The measurement of current ranges from picoamps to tens of thousands of amperes. The selection of a current sensing method depends on requirements such as magnitude, accuracy, bandwidth, robustness, cost, isolation or size. The current value may be directly displayed by an instrument, or converted to digital form for use by a monitoring or control system.


  1. Rudolf F. Graf, Modern dictionary of Electronics, Mc-Graw Hill, 1968 Library of Congress 68-13873 Shunt page 454.
  2. Matthaei, Young, Jones Microwave Filters, Impedance-Matching Networks, and Coupling Structures, p66, McGraw-Hill 1964
  3. 1 2 Manual of Electric Instruments, General Electric, 1949, pages 8–9
  4. Terrell Croft, American Electricians' Handbook, McGraw-Hill, 1948 p. 70
  5. R. Dziuba; N. B. Belecki; J. F. Mayo-Wells. "Stability of Double-Walled Manganin Resistors" (PDF). In Davide R. Lide. A Century of Excellence in Measurements, Standards, and Technology: A Chronicle of Selected NBS/ NIST Publications 1901–2000. pp. 63–65. CiteSeerX . doi:10.6028/NIST.SP.958. NIST SP 958. Ten of them served solely as the U.S. standard of resistance from 1939 until they were supplanted by the quantized Hall effect (QHE) in 1990.