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What Is a MOV: Metal Oxide Varistor Tutorial

Introduction to MOVs

A metal oxide varistor, commonly known as a MOV, is an electronic component used to protect circuits against voltage spikes and transient voltage suppression (TVS). MOVs are widely used in power supplies, surge protectors, and other electronic devices to prevent damage caused by sudden voltage increases. In this comprehensive MOV Tutorial, we will explore the fundamentals, working principles, applications, and selection criteria of metal oxide Varistors.

How Does a MOV Work?

Basic Principles

A MOV is a voltage-dependent, nonlinear device that acts as an insulator at low voltages and becomes conductive at high voltages. The main component of a MOV is a metal oxide material, typically zinc oxide (ZnO), sandwiched between two metal electrodes. The metal oxide material is mixed with small amounts of other metal oxides, such as bismuth trioxide (Bi2O3), cobalt oxide (CoO), and manganese dioxide (MnO2), to improve its electrical characteristics.

Voltage-Current Relationship

The voltage-current relationship of a MOV is highly nonlinear, as shown in the table below:

Voltage Current
Low Very Low (Leakage Current)
Nominal Rated Current
High High (Clamping Current)

At low voltages, the MOV acts as an insulator, allowing only a small leakage current to pass through. As the voltage increases to the nominal voltage, the MOV conducts the rated current. When the voltage surges beyond the nominal voltage, the MOV becomes highly conductive, allowing a large current to flow through it, effectively clamping the voltage to a safe level.

Response Time

One of the key advantages of MOVs is their fast response time. MOVs can respond to voltage spikes within nanoseconds, making them suitable for protecting sensitive electronic components from transient voltage events.

MOV Specifications and Parameters

When selecting a MOV for a specific application, it is essential to understand its key specifications and parameters.

Voltage Ratings

  1. Continuous Voltage Rating (VC): The maximum voltage that can be applied continuously to the MOV without causing degradation or damage.
  2. Nominal Voltage (VN): The voltage at which the MOV starts to conduct a significant amount of current, typically 1 mA.
  3. Maximum Clamping Voltage (VC): The maximum voltage that the MOV will allow across its terminals during a transient event.

Current Ratings

  1. Peak Current (IP): The maximum current that the MOV can handle during a single transient event without damage.
  2. Energy Rating (Joules): The amount of energy the MOV can absorb during a transient event without damage.

Other Parameters

  1. Capacitance: The inherent capacitance of the MOV, which can affect high-frequency performance.
  2. Response Time: The time taken by the MOV to react to a voltage spike and clamp the voltage to a safe level.

Applications of MOVs

MOVs find applications in various industries and devices, including:

  1. Power Supplies: MOVs are used in power supplies to protect against voltage spikes and surges on the input and output lines.
  2. Surge Protectors: MOVs are a key component in surge protectors, which are designed to safeguard electronic devices from voltage spikes caused by lightning strikes or power line disturbances.
  3. Telecommunications: MOVs are used in telephone lines and communication equipment to protect against voltage transients caused by lightning or
  4. Automotive Electronics: MOVs are employed in vehicle electrical systems to protect sensitive electronic components from voltage spikes caused by load dumps, ignition systems, and other transient events.
  5. Industrial Equipment: MOVs are used in industrial control systems, motor drives, and other equipment to protect against voltage transients and ensure reliable operation.

Selecting the Right MOV

When choosing a MOV for a specific application, consider the following factors:

  1. Voltage Rating: Ensure that the continuous voltage rating (VC) of the MOV is higher than the maximum expected continuous voltage in the circuit.
  2. Energy Rating: Select a MOV with an energy rating that exceeds the expected energy of the transient events in the application.
  3. Peak Current: Choose a MOV with a peak current rating that can handle the maximum expected current during a transient event.
  4. Response Time: Verify that the MOV’s response time is fast enough to protect the sensitive components in the circuit.
  5. Size and Package: Consider the physical size and package of the MOV to ensure compatibility with the circuit layout and space constraints.

MOV Protection Circuits

MOVs are often used in combination with other components to create effective protection circuits. Some common MOV protection circuits include:

  1. Series Connection: Multiple MOVs can be connected in series to increase the overall voltage rating of the protection circuit.
  2. Parallel Connection: Multiple MOVs can be connected in parallel to increase the current handling capability and energy absorption capacity of the protection circuit.
  3. MOV-Fuse Combination: A fuse can be connected in series with the MOV to provide additional protection against sustained overvoltage conditions. If the MOV fails short-circuit, the fuse will blow, disconnecting the load from the power source.
  4. MOV-Tvs Diode Combination: A transient voltage suppression (TVS) diode can be used in parallel with the MOV to provide faster response times and lower clamping voltages for sensitive electronic components.

MOV Failure Modes and Precautions

While MOVs are robust and reliable components, they can fail under certain conditions. The two primary failure modes of MOVs are:

  1. Short-Circuit Failure: If the MOV is subjected to a transient event that exceeds its energy rating, it may fail short-circuit, effectively becoming a low-resistance path. This can lead to excessive current flow and potentially damage the connected components.
  2. Open-Circuit Failure: In some cases, a MOV may fail open-circuit, losing its ability to conduct current and provide protection. This failure mode is less common and typically occurs due to prolonged exposure to high temperatures or mechanical stress.

To minimize the risk of MOV failure and ensure optimal protection, consider the following precautions:

  1. Proper Sizing: Select a MOV with appropriate voltage and energy ratings for the application, taking into account the expected transient events and continuous operating conditions.
  2. Fusing: Use a fuse in series with the MOV to protect against short-circuit failures and prevent excessive current flow.
  3. Thermal Management: Ensure adequate heat dissipation around the MOV to prevent overheating and premature failure.
  4. Regular Inspection: Periodically inspect the MOV for signs of degradation, such as discoloration or cracking, and replace it if necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. What is the difference between a MOV and a TVS diode?
    A MOV and a TVS diode are both used for transient voltage suppression, but they have some key differences. MOVs have a higher energy absorption capability and are better suited for high-energy transients, while TVS diodes have faster response times and lower clamping voltages, making them ideal for protecting sensitive electronic components.

  2. Can MOVs be used in AC applications?
    Yes, MOVs can be used in both AC and DC applications. When used in AC applications, the MOV’s voltage rating should be selected based on the peak voltage of the AC waveform, not the RMS voltage.

  3. How do I determine the energy rating required for my application?
    To determine the required energy rating, you need to estimate the expected transient energy in your application. This can be done by considering factors such as the transient voltage, current, and duration. Consult the MOV manufacturer’s datasheets and application notes for guidance on selecting the appropriate energy rating.

  4. Can I connect multiple MOVs in parallel to increase the energy absorption capability?
    Yes, connecting multiple MOVs in parallel can increase the overall energy absorption capability of the protection circuit. However, it is important to ensure that the MOVs have closely matched electrical characteristics to ensure even current sharing and prevent overloading of individual devices.

  5. What should I do if a MOV fails in my circuit?
    If a MOV fails short-circuit, it should be replaced immediately to restore proper protection. If a fuse is used in series with the MOV, the fuse will also need to be replaced. If a MOV fails open-circuit, it should also be replaced to ensure continued protection against transient events. Always investigate the cause of the failure and take appropriate measures to prevent future occurrences.


Metal oxide varistors (MOVs) are essential components in protecting electronic circuits and devices from voltage spikes and transient events. By understanding the working principles, specifications, and applications of MOVs, engineers and designers can select the appropriate devices and implement effective protection circuits. Proper sizing, fusing, thermal management, and regular inspection are crucial to ensuring the long-term reliability and performance of MOVs in various applications.

As technology advances and the demand for reliable and robust electronic systems grows, the role of MOVs in circuit protection will continue to be critical. By staying informed about the latest developments in MOV technology and best practices in circuit protection design, engineers can create safer, more reliable, and more efficient electronic products.