This study assesses the impact of dust on surface solar radiation focussing on an extreme dust event. For this purpose, we exploited the synergy of AERONET measurements and passive and active satellite remote sensing (MODIS and CALIPSO) observations, in conjunction with radiative transfer model (RTM) and chemical transport model (CTM) simulations and the 1-day forecasts from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS). The area of interest is the eastern Mediterranean where anomalously high aerosol loads were recorded between 30 January and 3 February 2015. The intensity of the event was extremely high, with aerosol optical depth (AOD) reaching 3.5, and optical/microphysical properties suggesting aged dust. RTM and CTM simulations were able to quantify the extent of dust impact on surface irradiances and reveal substantial reduction in solar energy exploitation capacity of PV and CSP installations under this high aerosol load. We found that such an extreme dust event can result in Global Horizontal Irradiance (GHI) attenuation by as much as 40–50 % and a much stronger Direct Normal Irradiance (DNI) decrease (80–90 %), while spectrally this attenuation is distributed to 37 % in the UV region, 33 % in the visible and around 30 % in the infrared. CAMS forecasts provided a reliable available energy assessment (accuracy within 10 % of that obtained from MODIS). Spatially, the dust plume resulted in a zonally averaged reduction of GHI and DNI of the order of 150 W m−2 in southern Greece, and a mean increase of 20 W m−2 in the northern Greece as a result of lower AOD values combined with local atmospheric processes. This analysis of a real-world scenario contributes to the understanding and quantification of the impact range of high aerosol loads on solar energy and the potential for forecasting power generation failures at sunshine-privileged locations where solar power plants exist, are under construction or are being planned.