Air pollution and dust prevail over many regions that have rapid growth of solar photovoltaic (PV) electricity generation, potentially reducing PV generation. Here we combine solar PV performance modelling with long-term satellite-observation-constrained surface irradiance, aerosol deposition and precipitation rates to provide a global picture of the impact of particulate matter (PM) on PV generation. We consider attenuation caused by both atmospheric PM and PM deposition on panels (soiling) in calculating the overall effect of PM on PV generation, and include precipitation removal of soiling and the benefits of panel cleaning. Our results reveal that, with no cleaning and precipitation-only removal, PV generation in heavily polluted and desert regions is reduced by more than 50% by PM, with soiling accounting for more than two-thirds of the total reduction. Our findings highlight the benefit of cleaning panels in heavily polluted regions with low precipitation and the potential to increase PV generation through air-quality improvements.